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The Bachelors by William Dana Orcutt

 

THE BACHELORS A NOVEL

BY WILLIAM DANA ORCUTT

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON MCMXV

COPYRIGHT, 1915 BY HARPER & BROTHERS

 

I

They were discussing Huntington and Cosden when the two men entered the living-room of the Club and strolled toward the little group indulging itself in relaxation after a more or less strenuous afternoon at golf. It was natural, perhaps, that no one quite understood the basis upon which their intimacy rested, for entirely aside from the difference in their ages they seemed far separated in disposition and natural tastes. Cosden's dynamic energy had made more than an average golf-player of Huntington, and in other ways forced him out of the easy path of least resistance; the older man's dignity and quiet philosophy tempered the cyclonic tendencies of his friend. The one met the world as an antagonist, and forced from it tribute and recognition; the other, never having felt the necessity of competition, had formed the habit of taking the world into his confidence and treating it as a friend.

These differences could not fail to attract the attention of their companions at the Club as day after day they played their round together, but this was the first time the subject had become a topic of general conversation. The speaker sat with his back to the door and continued his remarks after the newcomers came within hearing, in spite of the efforts made by those around to suppress him. The sudden hush and the conscious manner of those in the group would have conveyed the information even if the words had not.

“So you're giving us the once over, are you?” Cosden demanded, dropping into a chair. “You don't mean to say that the golf autobiographies have become exhausted?”

“I never heard myself publicly discussed,” added Huntington as he, too, joined the party. “I am already experiencing a thrill of pleasurable excitement. Don't stop. Connie and I are really keen to learn more of ourselves.”

“Well,” the speaker replied, with some hesitation, “there's no use trying to make you believe we were listening to Baker's explanation of how the bunkers have been located exactly where the golf committee knows his ball is going to strike—”

“Heaven forbid!” Huntington exclaimed; “but don't apologize. I congratulate the Club that the members are at last turning their attention to serious things. 'Tell the truth and shame the devil'—provided it is Connie, and not me, you are going to shame.”

“Don't mind me in the least,” Cosden added. “My hide is tough, and I rather like to be put through the acid test once in a while.”

“Oh, it isn't as bad as all that,” the speaker explained. “We love you both, but in different ways, yet we can't make out just where you two fellows hitch up. Now, that isn't lese-majeste, is it?”

“What do you think, Connie?” Huntington asked, lighting his pipe. “Is that an insult or a compliment?”

“I don't see that it makes much difference from this crowd. We don't care what they say about us as long as they pay us the compliment of noticing us. That's the main point, and I'm glad we've been able to start something.”

“But why don't you tell us?” insisted the speaker. “You aren't interested in anything Monty cares for except golf, and he hasn't even a flirting acquaintance with business, which is your divinity, yet you two fellows have formed a fine young Damon and Pythias combination which we all envy. Why don't you tell us how it happened?”

“I don't know,” Cosden answered, serious at last and speaking with characteristic directness. “I never stopped to think of it; but if we're satisfied, whose concern is it, anyhow?”

“If friendship requires explanation, then it isn't friendship,” added Huntington. “Connie contributes much to my life which would otherwise be lacking, and I hope that he would say the same of my relation to him.”

“Of course—that goes without saying; but neither one of you is telling us anything. If you would explain your method perhaps we might become more reconciled to some of these misfits lying around the Club—like Baker over there—”

“We have a thousand members—” Baker protested.

“What has that to do with the present discussion?”

“Why pick on me?”

“Which is the misfit in my combination with Monty?” Cosden demanded.

“I'm not labeling you fellows,” the speaker disclaimed—“I couldn't if I tried; but each of you is so different from the other that such a friendship seems inconsistent.”

There was a twinkle in Huntington's eye as he listened to the persistent cross-examination. “We are bachelors,” he said quietly. “That should explain everything; for what is a bachelor's life but one long inconsistency? If our friends were all alike what would be the need of having more than one? This friend gives us confidence in ourselves, another gives us sympathy; this friend gives us the inspiration which makes our work successful, another is the balance-wheel which prevents us from losing the benefit which success brings us. Each fills a separate and unique place in our lives, and, after all, the measure of our life-work is the sum of these friendships.”

The two responses demonstrated the difference between the men. William Montgomery Huntington came from a Boston family of position where wealth had accumulated during the several generations, each steward having given good account to his successor. He had taken up the practice of law after being graduated from Harvard—not from choice or necessity, but because his father and his grandfather had adopted it before him. His practice had never been a large one, but the supervision of certain trust estates, handed over to his care by his father's death, entailed upon him sufficient responsibility to enable him to maintain his self-respect.

It would have been a fair question to ask what Montgomery Huntington's manner of life would have been if his father had not been born before him. He lived alone, since his younger brother married, in the same house into which the family moved when he was an infant in arms. Modern improvements had been introduced, it is true, in the building just as in the generation itself; but the walls were unchanged. The son succeeded to the father's place in directorates and on boards of trustees in charitable institutions, and he performed his duties faithfully, as his predecessor had done. Now, at forty-five, he had reached a point where he found it difficult to distinguish between his working and his leisure hours.

Cosden's heritage had been a healthy imagination, a robust constitution, and an unbelievable capacity for work. Even his uncle Conover, from whom he had a right to expect compensation for the indignity of wearing his name throughout a lifetime, had left him to work out his own salvation. His parents had never worn the purple, but, being sturdy, valuable citizens, they spent their lives in fitting their son to occupy a position in life higher than they themselves could hope to attain; and Cosden had made the most of his opportunities. Seven years Huntington's junior, he had succeeded in a comparatively short time in extracting from his commercial pursuits a property which, from the standpoint of income, at least, was hardly less than his friend's. He, too, was a product of the university, but his name would be found blazoned on the annals of Harvard athletics rather than in the archives of the Phi Beta Kappa. His election as captain of the football team was a personal triumph, for it broke the precedent of social dominance in athletics, and laid the corner-stone for that democracy which since then has given Harvard her remarkable string of victories. The same dogged determination, backed up by real ability, which forced recognition in college accomplished similar results in later and more serious competitions. In the business world he was taken up first because he made himself valuable and necessary, and he held his advantage by virtue of his personal characteristics.

Cosden was not universally popular. He won his victories by sheer force of determination and ability rather than by diplomacy or finesse. In business dealings he had the reputation of being a hard man, demanding his full pound of flesh and getting it, but he was scrupulously exact in meeting his own obligations in the same spirit. To an extent this characteristic was apparent in everything he did; but to those who came to know him it ceased to be offensive because of other, more agreeable qualities which went with it. They learned that, after all, money to him was only the means to an end which he could not have secured without it.

To the man whose ruling passion is his business it is natural to measure himself and his actions by the same yardstick which has yielded full return in his office; to him whose property stands simply as a counter and medium of exchange the measure of life is inevitably different. The good-natured chaffing at the Club was forgotten by Huntington before he stepped into his automobile, but it still remained in Cosden's mind. As the car rolled out of the Club grounds he turned to his companion.

“Monty,” he said, “what is there so different about us that it attracts comment?”

“We should have found out if you hadn't snapped together like a steel trap. There was the chance of a lifetime to learn all about ourselves, and you shut them off by saying, 'If we're satisfied, whose concern is it, anyhow?'”

“Of course we are different,” Cosden continued; “that's only natural. No two fellows are alike. I wonder if what you said about our being bachelors hasn't more truth than poetry in it.—Give me a light from your pipe.”

“What is the connection?”

Cosden suddenly became absorbed and gave no sign that he heard the question. When he spoke his words seemed still more irrelevant.

“Monty,” he said seriously, “I want you to take a little trip with me for perhaps two or three weeks, or longer. What do you say?”

Huntington showed no surprise. “It might possibly be arranged,” he said.

Again Cosden relapsed into silence, puffing vigorously at his cigar as was his habit when excited. Huntington watched him curiously, wondering what lay behind.

“Did you ever try smoking a cigar with a vacuum cleaner?” he asked maliciously. “They say it draws beautifully, and consumes the cigar in one-tenth the time ordinarily required by a human being.”

Cosden was oblivious to his raillery. “What do you think of marriage?” he demanded abruptly.

The question, and the serious manner in which it was asked, succeeded in rousing Huntington to a point of interest.

“What do I think of—So that's the idea, is it, Connie? That's why you picked me up on what I said about bachelors? Good heavens, man! you haven't made up your mind to marry me off like this without my consent?”

“Of course not,” Cosden answered, with some impatience; “but what do you think of the idea in general?”

Huntington looked at his companion with some curiosity. “Well,” he said deliberately, “if you really ask the question seriously, I consider marriage an immorality, as it offers the greatest possible encouragement to deceit.”

Cosden sighed. “You are a hard man to talk to when you don't start the conversation. I really want your advice.”

“Would it be asking too much to suggest that you throw out a few hints here and there as to the real bearing of your inquiry, so that I may come fairly close on the third guess?”

“I've decided to get married,” Cosden announced.

“By Jove!” The words brought Huntington bolt upright in his seat. “You don't really mean it?”

“That's just what I mean. It occurred to me on the way home from the office last night. What you said about a bachelor's life being an inconsistency reminded me of it. I believe you're right.”

Huntington regarded him for a moment with a puzzled expression on his face; then he relaxed, convulsed with laughter. Cosden was distinctly nettled.

“This doesn't strike me as the friendliest way in the world to respond to a fellow's request for advice on so serious a subject.”

“You don't want to consult me,” Huntington insisted, checking himself; “what you need is a specialist. When did you first feel the attack coming on? Oh, Lord! Connie! That's the funniest line you ever pulled off!”

“Look here,” Cosden said, with evident irritation; “I'm serious. With any one else I should have approached the subject less abruptly, but I don't see why I should pick and choose my words with you.

“And the trip”—Huntington interrupted, again convulsed—“'for two or three weeks, or longer'? Is that to be your wedding-trip, and am I to go along as guardian?”

The older man's amusement became contagious, and Cosden's annoyance melted before his friend's keen enjoyment of the situation.

“Oh, well, have your laugh out,” he said good-naturedly. “When it's all over perhaps you'll discuss matters seriously. Can you advance any sane reason why I should not marry if I see fit?”

“None whatever, my dear boy, provided you've found a girl who possesses both imagination and a sense of humor.”

“I have reached a point in my life where I can indulge myself in marriage as in any other luxury,” Cosden pursued, unruffled by Huntington's comments. “I've slaved for fifteen years for one definite purpose—to make money enough to become a power; and now I've got it. Up to this time a wife would have been a handicap; now she can be an asset. After all is said and done, Monty, a home is the proper thing for a man to have. It's all right living as you and I do while one's mind is occupied with other things, but it is an inconsistency, as you say. Now—well, what have you to put up against my line of argument?”

“Am I to understand that all this, reduced to its last analysis, is intended to convey the information that you have fallen in love?”

“What perfect nonsense!” Cosden replied disgustedly. “You and I aren't school-boys any more. We're living in the twentieth century, Monty, and people have learned that sometimes it's hard to distinguish between love and indigestion. I won't say that marriage has come to be a business proposition, but there's a good deal more thinking beforehand than there used to be. A woman wants power as much as a man does, and the one way she can get it is through her husband. It's only the young and unsophisticated who fall for the bushel of love and a penny loaf these days, and there are mighty few of those left. Get your basic business principles right to begin with, I say, and the sentimental part comes along of itself.”

Huntington was convinced by this time that Cosden was seriously in earnest. He had believed that he knew his friend well enough not to be surprised at anything he said or did, but now he found himself not only surprised, but distinctly shocked. He had joked with Cosden when he first spoke of marriage, but in his heart he regarded it with a sentimentality which no one of his friends suspected because of the cynicisms which always sprang to his lips when the subject was mentioned. He believed himself to have had a romance, and during these years its memory still obtained from him a sacred observance which he had successfully concealed from all the world. So, when Cosden coolly announced that he had decided to select a wife just as he would have picked out a car-load of pig iron, Huntington's first impulse was one of resentment.

“It seems to me that you are proposing a partnership rather than a marriage,” he remarked.

“What else is marriage?” Cosden demanded. “You've hit it exactly. I wouldn't take a man into business with me simply because I liked him, but because I believed that he more than any one else could supplement my work and extend my horizon. Marriage is the apotheosis of partnership, and its success depends a great deal more upon the psychology of selection than upon sentiment.”

Huntington made no response. The first shock was tempered by his knowledge of Cosden's character. It was natural that he should have arrived at this conclusion, the older man told himself, and it was curious that the thought had not occurred to Huntington sooner that the days of their bachelor companionship must inevitably be numbered. There was nothing else which Connie could wish for now: he had his clubs, his friends, and ample means to gratify every desire; a home with wife and children was really needed to complete the success which he had made. He had proved himself the best of friends, which was a guarantee that he would make a good husband. Huntington found himself echoing Cosden's question, “Why not?”

“Have you selected the happy bride, Connie?” he asked at length, more seriously.

“Only tentatively,” was the complacent reply. “I met a girl in New York last winter, and it seems to me she couldn't be improved upon if she had been made to order; but I want to look the ground over a bit, and that is where you come in. Her name is Marian Thatcher, and—”

“Thatcher—Marian Thatcher!” Huntington interrupted unexpectedly. “From New York? Why—no, that would be ridiculous! Is she a widow?”

Cosden chuckled. “Not yet, and if she marries me it will be a long time before she gets a chance to wear black. What put that idea in your head?”

“Nothing,” Huntington hastened to say. “I knew a girl years ago named Marian who married a man named Thatcher, and they lived in New York.”

“She is about twenty years old—”

“Not the same,” Huntington remarked. Then after a moment's silence he laughed. “What tricks Time plays us! I knew the girl I speak of when I was in college, and I haven't seen her since her marriage. Go on with your proposition.”

“Well, she and her parents went down to Bermuda last week, and it occurred to me that if you and I just happen down there next week it would exactly fit into my plans. More than that, I have business reasons for wanting to get closer to Thatcher himself. We've been against each other on several deals, and this might mean a combination. What do you say? Will you go?”

“Next week?” Huntington asked. “I couldn't pick up stakes in a minute like that.”

“Of course you can,” Cosden persisted. “There's nothing in the world to prevent your leaving to-night if you choose.”

“There's Bill, you know.”

“Well, what about Bill? Is he in any new scrape now?”

“No,” Huntington admitted; “but he's sure to get into some trouble before I return.”

“Why can't his father straighten him out?”

Huntington laughed consciously. “No father ever understands his son as well as an uncle.”

“No father ever spoiled a son the way you spoil Bill—”

Huntington held up a restraining hand. “It is only the boy's animal spirits bubbling over,” he interrupted, “and the fact that he can't grow up. You and I were in college once ourselves.”

Huntington was never successful in holding out against Cosden's persistency, and in the present case elements existed which argued with almost equal force. He was curious to see how far his friend was in earnest, and was this combination of names a pure coincidence? He wondered.

The car came to a stop before Huntington's house.

“Well,” he yielded at length, as he stepped out, “I presume it might be arranged.—Let Mason take you home. You've given me a lot to think over, Connie—”

“This wouldn't break up our intimacy, you understand,” Cosden asserted confidently. “No woman in the world shall ever do that; and it will be a good thing for you, too, to have a woman's influence come into your life.”

“Perhaps,” Huntington assented dubiously; “but because you show symptoms of lapsing is no sign that I shall fall from the blessed state of bachelorhood. I supposed that our inoculation made us both immune, but if the virus has weakened in your system I have no doubt that any woman you select will have a heart big enough for us both.”

“If she hasn't, we won't take her into the firm,” laughed Cosden.

II

       * * * * *

Huntington was unusually preoccupied during the period of dinner. Even when alone he was in the habit of making the evening meal a function, in which his man Dixon and his cook took especial pride. But to-night the words of praise or gentle criticism were lacking, one course succeeding another mechanically without comment of any kind. When Dixon followed him up-stairs to the library with coffee and liqueur he found him with his Transcript still unfolded lying in his lap; and, whatever may have happened in the mean time, the same attitude of abstraction prevailed when Dixon returned, three hours later, received his final instructions, and was dismissed for the night. Cosden had undoubtedly dropped off into that slumber which belongs by right to the man whose day has presented him with a brilliant inspiration; but Huntington still sat alone, absorbed in his own thoughts.

The chronicler has already intimated that Huntington was possessed of a sentimental nature, but were he to stop there he would understate the real truth. Huntington was exceedingly sentimental—far more so than he himself realized, which made it natural that his friends should be deceived. He was a bachelor not from choice, as he would have the world think, but from circumstance, and the absence of home and wife and children represented the one lack in an otherwise entirely satisfactory career. It was the only thing his father had not provided for him, and he himself had not possessed sufficient energy to take the initiative.

The conversation on the way home from the Club brought matters fairly before Huntington's mental vision. One moment it seemed monstrous that his friend of so many years' standing should deliberately announce his intention of entering into an estate from which he himself must perforce be barred, yet while the treachery seemed blackest Huntington found himself acknowledging that it was the proper step for Cosden to take, and admiring that characteristic which saved him from committing his own mistake. Yet, if years before he had only—but herein lies the most extraordinary evidence of Huntington's sentimentality. If the story were told—and it can scarcely be called a story—it would begin and end like Sidney Carton's in one long “what might have been.”

It was the mention of the name quite as much as the subject of their conversation which started in motion all that mysterious machinery which forces the present far out of its proper focus, disregards the future, and brings into the limelight those events of the past which the intervening years have magnified. No one can really explain it, and the wise make no attempt. “Marian Thatcher,” Cosden had said. She was Marian Seymour when he had known her, twenty-odd years before, and the Marian he had known married a man named Thatcher right under the very noses of the legion of admirers, himself included, who fluttered about her. Of course it was only a coincidence, this combination of names, for the girl Cosden spoke of was only twenty; but just as substances combined by chemists in their laboratories begin to ferment and produce unwonted conditions, so did the combination of those two names start in Montgomery Huntington's brain that series of mental pictures which caused him to forget that the hour had come when sane persons of his age and disposition sought repose.

This was not the first time that he had thus outraged Nature, and for the selfsame cause. Not a year of the more than twenty had passed without at least one mental pilgrimage to the shrine which had become more and more sacred as time piled itself on time. Satisfied that he alone was awake in the house, Huntington rose and drew a small table before his chair, and with a key taken from his pocket unlocked the drawer. It was a curious performance at that hour of night, and he seemed to be filled with guilty apprehensions, for he glanced from time to time at the closely-curtained door as if fearing interruption. The lock yielded readily and the contents of the drawer lay in front of him. Then, before seating himself again, he laid a fresh log on the open fire, turned off the lights, and resumed his favorite seat, with the table and the open drawer before him, illumined only by the flickering glare from the fireplace.

For a moment he threw himself back in his chair, shading his eyes with his hand as if the mental picture was even more delectable than the sight of the actual objects before him. Then he sat upright again, with a deep sigh, and transferred from the open drawer to the top of the table a most remarkable collection of articles, which seemed to belong to any one else rather than to him.

There was a long white glove, which he reverently unfolded and placed at the further edge of the table-top; there was a bunch of faded flowers, the dried petals of which fell softly onto the white glove in spite of the delicacy of his handling; there was a yellowed envelope, from which he drew a brief note, read it word by word, shook his head sadly, replaced the note in its covering, and laid the envelope tenderly on the table beside its fellow-exhibits. A piece of pink ribbon followed the envelope, and then—fie! Monty Huntington! where did you get it?—then came a pink satin slipper; and the exhibition was complete.

The showman seemed well satisfied with what he saw before him, for he reached across to his smoking-table and found as if by instinct a well-burnt brier pipe, with stem of albatross wing, which he filled with his own mixture of Arcady and puffed contentedly, his eyes fixed upon the exhibits. Then the dim, flickering light and the incense of the tobacco accomplished their transmogrification. No longer was he William Montgomery Huntington, lawyer, man of affairs, director, trustee and—bachelor; he was Monty Huntington, senior in Harvard College, back in his rooms in Beck after his Senior Dance, stricken by the darts of that roguish Cupid who shot his shafts from the soft tulle folds of the gown worn that night by this same Marian, the casual mention of whose name even now caused him to forget his age and position and the dignity demanded in a bachelor of forty-five.

The cloud of fragrant smoke concealed the fact that the long white glove was empty now; the flickering light made golden the words of the brief note which thanked him for the evening which his escort had made so wonderful a memory in a young girl's heart; the faded flowers were things of color and fragrance, more sweetly redolent because they had risen and fallen with her breath of life; the pink ribbon seemed to have a dance-card at one end and to be tied to a graceful wrist at the other; and the slipper—yes, the slipper—the dreamer smiled as he recalled the fleeting figure which flew up the brownstone steps behind her chaperon when he had last seen her, in playful fearfulness because he had managed to whisper in her ear that she was the sweetest, dearest, most bewitching maiden he had ever seen. The slipper had dropped off, and remained in his possession by right of capture since the owner would not come outside the door to claim her own.

He had intended to make this selfsame slipper the excuse for following up what he was convinced was the romance of his life; but Marian Seymour had already returned home to New York when he called three days later. This was a disappointment, still at that moment it seemed but a postponement after all, for he was sailing for Europe a fortnight hence and could easily reach New York a day or two earlier than he had planned. Thus far the idea was capital; but when the second call was paid, with the pink slipper safely reposing in his pocket, he found that the dainty foot to which the slipper belonged had stepped upon an ocean steamer which sailed the day before.

Even this second misadventure failed to dampen his ardor. Good fortune had arranged for him to follow in her direction, and surely, when once upon the same continent, the slipper would be a lodestone of sufficient potency to draw together two souls such as theirs. Yet he returned six months later without having had the expected happen, and soon after landing he learned of her engagement to a Mr. Thatcher.

There is a certain gratification which comes to the experienced man of the world of twenty-two when he finds himself a martyr; and Monty Huntington enjoyed this gratification to the utmost. He was conscientious in believing himself to be wretchedly unhappy, but as a matter of fact he had in the instant become a hero to himself. Women were faithless: misogamists in prose and poetry had so chronicled the fact, and he had already, at this early age, become the victim of their perfidy. Marian Seymour should have known the depth of his love for her; she should have known that he would have told her of his affection had she given him the opportunity; and the mere fact that he had never so declared himself was not of the slightest importance. She had deliberately disregarded his impassioned though unexpressed sentiments toward her, and had thrown herself away on a man he did not even know!

Fortunately, Time treats with kindly hand those tragedies which are imagined as well as those which actually exist. Each year added to the luster of the memory. Marian Seymour herself would not have recognized her own face could Huntington have translated it out of the figments of his mind upon the crude medium of canvas. And, be it said, had Huntington come face to face with the original during these years, it is doubtful whether he would have recognized her; for the idealization had become absolutely real to him. No sculptor had ever modeled hand and arm so perfect as that which the yellowed glove had held; no foot was ever shaped with graceful line equal to that which once the satin slipper had incased. The faithlessness of woman had long since been forgotten, and the sanctity of this romance, which might have been, provided all the details which it would otherwise have lacked. Each year made it more real, until now there was no doubt about it. Other men worshiped at the shrine of departed dear ones with no greater sincerity than did Montgomery Huntington revere this near-romance of his life.

So, as he sat there, he was not the bachelor his friends considered him, but rather a man bereft of wife and children. Cosden, knowing nothing of this secret grief, had wantonly torn the veil aside and exposed the wound. Yet, with the sorrow of the widower and the childless, there must have come back to Huntington some memories which were not sad, for when Dixon happened upon him in the morning, soundly sleeping in his favorite chair with this curious exhibit before him, and with a pink slipper firmly grasped within his hand, there was a smile as if of happiness upon his face. And Dixon, discreet valet that he was, showed no surprise, a half-hour later, when he found the table and its strange contents carefully put away without his aid, or when his master summoned him to his room, where he appeared to be just rising as usual from a sleep as restful as it had been unportentous.

III

       * * * * *

“Then I shall leave Bermuda feeling that my beautiful dream is wholly incomplete.”

Mrs. Henry Thatcher spoke with a degree of resignation, but her tone signified that the apparent retreat was only to gain strength for a final advance which was sure to gain her point. She knew that this discussion with her husband would end as all their differences of opinion ended, and so did he. Perhaps his opposition was the inevitable expression of his own individuality which every married man likes to make a pretense of preserving; perhaps it pleased him to see his wife's half-playful, half-serious attack upon his own judgment in gently forcing him into a position where her wishes became his desires.

“Better to have your dream incomplete than his privacy invaded,” was the apparently unmoved reply. “When an owner plants a sign, 'Private Property,' conspicuously at the entrance to his estate, he is sure to have some idea in the back of his head which is as much to be respected as your curiosity is to be gratified.”

“It is a compliment in itself that we wish to see the grounds,” she persisted; “the owner, whoever he is, could not consider it otherwise.”

“A compliment which has evidently been repeated often enough to become a nuisance—hence the sign.”

Marian Thatcher sighed heavily as she threw herself back in the victoria. Her husband was holding out longer than usual.

“I simply must see the view from that point,” she declared; “and until I can examine that gorgeous bougainvillea at closer range I refuse to return to New York.”

“There!” laughed Edith Stevens, looking mischievously into Thatcher's face, “that is what I call an ultimatum! Come, Ricky,”—speaking to her brother—“let us walk back to the hotel. It will be humiliating to see Marian disciplined in public!”

“You all are making me the scapegoat,” Marian protested. “You know that you are just as eager to get inside those walls as I am. Look!” she cried, leaning forward in the carriage. “Isn't that—Yes, it is a century plant, and it's in bloom! Oh, Harry! you wouldn't make me wait another hundred years to see that, would you?”

“Let me be the dove of peace,” Stevens suggested, manifesting unusual comprehension and activity as he stepped out of the carriage. “I'll run in and beard the jolly old lion in his den.”

Thatcher shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly, Marian clapped her hands with delight, and Edith Stevens smiled indulgently as they settled back to await the result of the embassy.

This midwinter pilgrimage to Bermuda was the result of a sudden impulse made while the Stevenses were their box-guests at the opera in New York two weeks before. They had exhausted the superlatives forced from their lips by the dramatic transformation from December to June—from ice and snow to roses and oleanders; they had followed the beaten track, touching elbows with the happy bride and the inquisitive traveler, seeing the sights in true tourist fashion; they had passed through the stage of quiet contentment, satisfied to sit on the broad sun-piazza of the “Princess” in passive lassitude, watching others experience what they had seen, learning the regulation forms of recreation indulged in by those who settled down more permanently. From the same point of vantage they had watched the great sails of the pleasure-boats pass so close beside them that they could have tossed pennies upon their decks; they saw the gorgeous sunsets behind Gibbs' Hill, with the ravishing changes of color and light and shade thrown upon the myriad of tiny islands scattered picturesquely throughout the bay.

Then the period of inaction turned into a desire to learn more deeply of the beauties which the tourist never sees, and they poked through the narrow “tribal” lanes and unfrequented roads on foot, on bicycles, or en voiture, searching for the unexpected, and finding rich rewards at the end of every quest. It was one of these expeditions which led them to the highest rise of Spanish Point, where they stopped their carriage before the entrance to a private estate, within the walls of which they saw evidences of what the hand of man can do in supplementing Nature's work.

Presently Stevens could be seen coming toward them, waving his hat as a signal for their advance. The driver turned in through the gateway.

“He's a mighty decent sort,” Stevens announced as he met the approaching vehicle. “Can't make out whether he's English or American, but he offered no objections whatever.”

“There!” Marian cried triumphantly; “of course he feels complimented! If his grounds were merely the commonplace no one would want to disturb his 'privacy,' as Harry calls it. Did you ever see such a spot?”

“Wonderful!” echoed Edith, equally impressed by the luxuriant bloom on either side of the driveway. “Thank Heaven here is a man who knows how not to vulgarize flowers.”

As they reached the front of the coraline stone house the owner stepped forward to greet them. He was a man of striking appearance, and his visitors found their attention at once diverted from the beauty surrounding them to the personality which manifested itself even in this brief moment of their meeting. He was fairly tall, but slight, the narrowness of his face being accentuated by the closely-cropped beard. As he removed his broad panama he disclosed a heavy head of hair, well turned to grey, which, with the darkness of his complexion, was set off by the white doe-skin suit he wore. As he came nearer his visitors were instinctively impressed by the expression of his face, for the high forehead, the deep, restless, yet penetrating eyes, the refined yet unsatisfied lines of the mouth, belonged to the ascetic rather than to the cottager, to the spiritual seeker for the unattainable rather than to the owner of an estate such as this.

“I am glad you discounted my apparent inhospitality,” he said, with pleasant dignity. “The tourists would overrun me if I did not take some such measure to protect myself; but I am always glad to welcome any one whose interest is more than curiosity.”

“It is good of you to make a virtue out of our presumption,” Marian replied as their host assisted them to alight. Then their eyes met and there was instant recognition.

“Philip!” she cried in utter amazement. “Is it possible that this is you—here?”

The man bowed until his face almost touched the hand he still held, and the surprise seemed for the moment to deprive him of power of speech. He courteously motioned his guests to precede him through an arbor of poinsettia into a tropical garden on a cliff overhanging the water.

“Harry,” Marian continued, still excited by her experience, “this is Philip Hamlen—you've heard me speak so many times of him. My husband, Mr. Thatcher, Philip,” she added, as the two men shook hands; then she presented him to the Stevenses.

Outwardly Hamlen showed none of the confusion which Marian so plainly manifested. He was the self-contained host, seemingly interested in the coincidence of the unexpected meeting, but by no means exercised over it.

“Welcome to my Garden of Eden,” he said, smiling, as the magnificent expanse of cliff and sea greeted them—“thrice welcome, since to two of us this is in the nature of a reunion.”

It was a revelation even in spite of their expectations. Involuntarily the eye first took in the turquoise water and the crumbling, broken shore-line undershot by the caves formed by the pounding of centuries of waves against the layers of animal formation. Except for the great dry-dock and the naval barracks across the entrance to Hamilton Harbor, all seemed as Nature had intended it.

Then, as the vision narrowed to its immediate surroundings, the visitors realized how much art had accomplished in making the garden into which their host had shown them seem so completely in harmony with the brilliant setting of its location. They had thought of Bermuda as the home of the Easter lily, not realizing that this is but a seasonal incident; they could not have believed it possible to make the luxuriant bloom of the tropical trees, shrubs, and flowers so subservient to the beauty of their foliage, yet so marvelous a finish to the brilliancy of the whole. The great rubber-tree extended its awkward branches in exactly the right directions to add quaint picturesqueness; the poincianas, as graceful as the rubber-tree was gauche, lifted their smooth, bare branches like elephant trunks, from which the great leaves hung down in magnificent clusters; the calabash, with its own ungainly beauty, proved its right by exactly fitting into the landscape at its own particular corner and the row of giant cabbage-palms stood like sentinels, adding a quiet dignity suggestive of the East. Between these and other massive trunks the smaller trees and flowering shrubs were interspersed in so original and bewildering a manner that each glance forced a new exclamation of delight. The night-blooming cereus crawled like an ugly reptile in and out among the branches of the giant cedars, but the bursting buds gave evidence that at nightfall they would redeem the hideous suggestiveness of the trailing vine. Cacti and sago-palms formed brilliant backgrounds for the lilies of novel shapes and colors, and for the other flowers which vied with one another for preference in the eye of their beholder.

The conversation was commonplace in its nature, and in it Marian took little part. The vivacity which usually made her conspicuous in any group had entirely left her. Her interest in the view from the Point and in the magnificent vegetation had vanished, and her eyes followed Hamlen as he indicated each special beauty to his guests. Edith Stevens was the only one who sensed the unusual; the men were too discreet or too occupied by the novelty of their experience.

“Do you mind, Harry,” Marian said aloud, turning to her husband, “if the gardener shows you around the grounds? It has been years since I last saw Mr. Hamlen, and there are some matters I simply must talk over with him.”

Nothing Marian Thatcher asked or did ever surprised her husband or her friends. The abruptness of the question, and the certainty she manifested that her request would at once be complied with, were characteristic. In the present instance, however, it was obvious that the unexpected meeting touched some hidden spring which took her back to a time in her life before they themselves had claims upon her, and they respected her desire to be alone with her revived friendship. A few moments later, with jocose chidings that she had appropriated for herself the chief attraction of the estate, they moved off under the guidance of the gardener, who was proud of the interest manifested in the results of his work in carrying out his master's plans.

“Please don't come back for at least half an hour,” Marian called after them. Then she turned to her companion.

“So this is where you disappeared to?”

Hamlen bowed his head. He was not so careful now to conceal his emotions, and it was evident that old memories were stirred within him, as well.

“Could I have found a more beautiful exile?” he asked.

“How many years have you been here?” she demanded.

“I left New York the week following the announcement of your engagement to Mr. Thatcher. Perhaps you can figure it out better than I. Time has come to mean nothing to me here.”

“That was in ninety-three,” Marian said, reflecting,—“over twenty years ago! You have been here ever since?”

Hamlen hesitated before he answered. “I have been back to the States only once—when my father died. I have made short excursions to London, to Paris, to Berlin, to Vienna; but the world is all the same, and I was always glad to return here, to this retreat.”

“Twenty years of solitude!” Marian repeated. “Don't tell me that it was because of—”

“I came here because I wanted to get away from every old association,” Hamlen interrupted hastily. “I settled down here because I loved this beautiful island—and I love it still.”

“But your friends, Philip—”

A tinge of bitterness crept into his voice. “Friends?” he repeated after her. “What friends did I ever have whom I could regret to leave behind?”

“I know,” she admitted, striving to ease the pain her words had inflicted; “but your father—and your classmates.”

“Yes—my father. I was wrong to leave him. Had I waited but two years longer, I should have left behind me no ties of any kind. But the good old pater understood me; he was the only one who ever did.”

“Haven't you kept in touch with any one at home?”

“This is 'home,'“ he corrected.

“Not for you, Philip,” she insisted. “This is a Garden of Eden, as you yourself called it, this is a dream life of sunshine and the fragrance of flowers, this is the home of the lotus-eaters, for the present moment enticing men—and women, too—away from the stern pursuits of life; but it is not 'home' for such as you.”

“I have found it all you say and more,” Hamlen replied firmly; “but it has not been the life of inactivity which you suggest. The very things which tempted you to turn in here from your drive show that my years of patient study and experiment have not been altogether in vain. Inside the house I have my library, which can scarcely be equaled in the States. There I keep up my work more assiduously than I could possibly have done elsewhere. The literature of the past belongs to me, for I have made it part of myself. I know Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, not as books only, but almost word for word. I can speak five languages as well as my own. Is this the existence of the lotus-eater, Marian? Is this merely the dream life of sunshine and of flowers?”

She looked at him long before replying. Then she rested her hand gently upon his arm.

“It's the same Philip, isn't it?—the same old Philip who refused, over twenty years ago, to recognize the real significance of life? The same Philip—older, more refined by the chastening of time, more polished by the refinement of accomplishment, but with his eyes still closed to the difference between the means and the end.”

The expression on Hamlen's face showed that he failed utterly to comprehend.

“Why had you no friends to leave behind you?” she asked abruptly, realizing the cruelty of her question, but determined to make him see her point.

“Because no one understood me,” he answered doggedly.

“Was it their failure to understand you, or your failure to give them the opportunity?”

“Both, perhaps. I had no time to fritter away in college; most of the men did.”

“There you are! Can't you see what I mean? The particular things the fellows did there were forgotten within twenty-four hours, but the friendships formed while doing them have endured throughout their lives. The 'things' were the means, the experience was the end. What friendships can you have here?”

Instead of answering her, Hamlen rose and motioned silently that she precede him through the arbor and up the path to the edge of the cliff.

“Do you think I can be lonely while I hear the surge of that great ocean upon my shore?” he demanded. “Do you think I miss the friendships which so often bring sorrow in their wake while I can conjure up from the past the most glorious friends the world has ever known, visit with them, argue over my pet theories, and give them all this setting here whose counterpart can never be surpassed?”

She smiled sadly in reply. “You have built your life upon the same basis as this island itself,” she said—“upon the foundations of what is dead and past. You have argued with yourself until you have come to believe the fallacy you preach—that you, an Anglo-Saxon, can be content with such a life as this. Are you true to your responsibilities? Are you—”

“What do I owe the world?” he interrupted. “I ask from it nothing but peace and solitude, and surely even the most insignificant has a right to that without incurring responsibilities. Why, Marian, I stand here upon this Point, as the little steamers leave their trail of smoke behind them, and thank God that for one day, three days, a week, we are cut off from the world. There is nothing I love so much as this separation from my fellow-men.”

“Then how fortunate, after all—” she began, but he interrupted her.

“That is another story,” he insisted. “I am speaking of what life means to me to-day, not what it might have meant under other circumstances.”

They strolled slowly back into the garden and settled themselves upon a stone seat which commanded a superb view of the surrounding country. It was her heart rather than her eyes which controlled Marian now, and she saw before her nothing but this man-grown boy, who at an earlier time in her life had exercised an absorbing influence upon her. It was her heart, still loyal to the friendship which remained, struggling to find the right word which should start in motion the machinery to bring the latent potentiality into action.

“Your ideas are no different now than then,” she said at length, “except that time has intensified them. You used to compare what you found in books with what you found in life, to the distinct disadvantage of the realities.”

“Yes,” Hamlen admitted; “and it is just as true to-day.”

“Do you know why?” she demanded pointedly.

“Because life is so full of insincerity.”

“No,” she protested, “you are wrong, absolutely wrong. The real reason lies in you. You have always given of yourself in your intellectual pursuits, and have received in kind. In your relations with life you have never given of yourself, and again you have received in kind. Philip, Philip! why don't you study yourself as you do your books, and even now learn the lesson you need to know?”

“Was that why—back there—” he began.

She paused for a moment as the conversation took her back to the earlier days.

“You thought me changeable,” she evaded the question; “but for that you yourself were responsible. You drew me to you with irresistible force, then repelled me by your intolerance of all those lighter interests which were natural to youth of our age. Your letters stimulated my ambition, your conversation stirred in me all that was best; but as soon as we were separated I felt a lack which for a long time I was unable to understand.”

“Why did you come,” he asked, “to awaken these memories I have tried so hard to forget?” but she seemed not to hear him.

“Then I realized what a dream it was,” she continued. “Music to you meant canon and fugue, counterpoint and diminished sevenths; to me it was the invitation to dance. You had no friends, and I was frightened by your willingness to be alone. You had nothing in common with me or my friends; you gave my heart nothing to feed upon except intellect—intellect, and I found myself one moment beneath its hypnotic influence, the next striving to break away from its oppression. Perhaps this was what you had in mind, Philip, that we two run off to some island such as this, to spend our lives in Utopia, alone except for ourselves and your books.”

“For me, that would have been all I could have asked.”

“But no one, Philip, can live on that alone. We need to draw from our companionship with others in order to give of it to each other. And you forget”—she smiled mischievously—“that when Aristotle begins to bore you he can be placed back upon the shelf. You couldn't do that with a wife! Admit, dear friend, that I or any other woman would have made you utterly wretched.”

“I will admit that of any woman other than you.”

They rose as by mutual impulse and strolled about the garden for several moments in silence, the thoughts of each centered upon the past.

“See this wild honey.” Hamlen touched the curiously formed leaf. “It took me months to make it twine about that tree.”

“How long would it have taken to make a baby's fingers twine about your heart?” Marian asked meaningly.

A twinge of pain shot across his face. “Have you—children?” he asked.

“Forgive me, Philip,” she answered contritely. “Yes,” in answer to his question; “a daughter, whom you shall meet at the hotel, and a big, strapping son. He's a senior at Harvard now, and his name is—Philip.”

Hamlen suddenly seized her hand and pressed it to his lips. “Your husband won't begrudge me that,” he said, with a quaver in his voice.

“Thank God!” Marian cried unexpectedly. “It is a relief to find even a small defect in that intellectual armor of yours! Philip, you are a humbug, and you deceive no one but yourself! It is not solitude which you love, it is not friendship which you despise; it is simply that you have made a virtue out of a condition which exists because you don't know how to change it. Let me help you now.”

“How can the leopard change his spots?” he demanded incredulously.

“Go back with us when we sail for New York week after next. Leave things here just as they are, and keep this wonderful spot as a retreat when life becomes too strenuous. Harry and I will return here with you if you wish us to, and will introduce so many serpents into your Garden of Eden that you'll relegate us to the cliff while you take refuge in your library. But between now and that time go back with us into that life which is your life. Place yourself where you can feel the competition of what goes on about you. Try pushing against the current, and learn the joy of contact with something which opposes. Study the people around you, and make friends—it's not too late, with your splendid personality and with me to show you how. Come and get acquainted with your namesake. Help him to learn from you what you can teach him better than any one I know, and learn from him what his youthfulness can teach you. Will you do it, Philip? Will you let this wonderful work you've done here be the means and not the end? Will you put your accomplishments where they can be of value, instead of hoarding them, as a miser does his gold?”

He stood watching her wonderful animation as she spoke with a conviction which swept him off his feet. In the past she had listened to him, and he could but be conscious of the domination which his mind had held over hers; now he knew their positions to be reversed. Was this what the world had given her? And the boy—Philip, named after him. Why was it that the lessons he had taught himself during all these years proved so inadequate to combat the yearning which he felt within him?

Marian was not slow to sense the conflict in his heart, nor to follow up her advantage.

“What have you really accomplished, Philip?” she asked quietly. “Be generous in sharing your splendid development with us.”

“I could not give this up,” he protested.

“Of course you couldn't, and you should not,” she assented. “Give up nothing, but simply add to what you have by assimilating from others. I want you to know my husband, my children, and my friends, and I want them to know you. Say that you will return with us, Philip.”

He gazed at her helplessly, then turned his head aside. The emotion against which he had fought for twenty years had escaped from his control, and he was ashamed that another should see what he knew his face betrayed.

“It is impossible,” he said, when he was himself again; “it would not be fair.”

“To whom?” she demanded.

“To you—or to your husband—”

“Nonsense! We all understand one another too well for that! It is the boy who needs you and whom you need.”

Hamlen turned to her again. “The boy,” he repeated after her—“Philip! You would let him come into my life?”

“I desire nothing so much,” she answered resolutely, a great joy surging in her heart as she seemed to see the barrier between him and life crumbling before her attack.

“Would the boy permit it? I might not be able—”

“Let me be judge of that,” she smiled.

The man passed his hand wearily over his eyes as Mrs. Thatcher watched his uncertainty with fearfulness and yet with eager expectancy. She knew that she could say no more, that there was danger in bringing further pressure upon this spirit already extended to its extremest tension; and yet she longed to take advantage of what she had gained in awakening the latent human element and in disturbing the complacency which habit had established upon premises so false.

“Oh, Marian!” Hamlen cried at length, in a voice so full of suffering that it staggered her; “the world is not to be trusted even when you hold it up so temptingly before me. It always has been false and always will be so for me. Each time I have given it the chance it has struck me a harder blow than before. No, Marian, I can't expose myself again. If I could make myself a part of some one else—if this boy—No, no! I couldn't take the risk. You mustn't ask me. You mean it kindly, but—”

“Trust me,” Marian said softly. “Come,” she continued, nodding in the direction of the returning party. “I will tell Harry that you are dining with us to-night at the 'Princess.'”

IV

       * * * * *

It was in the long, spacious dining-room of the “Princess” that Cosden pointed out the Thatcher party to Huntington, and Hamlen was with them. Naturally enough Huntington's eyes first rested on the girl's face, and in it he found enough that was reminiscent to cause a start. It was Marian Seymour as she must have looked when he knew her, but not at all as he had come to think of her during the intervening years. How ridiculously young she was! But Huntington had discovered that young people were getting to look younger every year now. It almost annoyed him, whenever he went to Cambridge to straighten out some mix-up of nephew Billy's, to see how much smaller and younger the students were to-day than when he was there. He remembered distinctly that he and his mates had been men when he was in college; but the present generation was made up of youngsters who should not be allowed abroad without their nurses.

Miss Thatcher, whom Cosden pointed out to him, came within the same category. She carried herself with a dignity not always seen in girls of her age, but she was undeniably young. Then his glance passed from her to the older woman whom he took to be her mother, and he found himself guilty of staring shamelessly. This was undoubtedly the Marian Seymour of sainted memory, now delightfully matured into an extremely attractive matron of thirty-eight or forty. The slight figure had changed but little from what he remembered; the face still showed traces of its former mischievous vivacity, even though it had become more decorous. Such changes as he saw were only those which come in the natural development of a charming girl into a well set-up woman of the world. So this was the genius who would have presided over his household if he had happened to find her at home upon either of those two momentous occasions, or if he had happened to discover her in Europe on that eventful trip and had happened to tell her of his devotion, and, incidentally, she had happened to respond to his declaration of undying affection.

His inspection was as complete and analytic as the distance between the two tables would permit. She was a fascinating woman, he acknowledged, and yet—she was so different from what he had pictured her. The wife with whom he had mentally lived these twenty years he himself had created out of the all-too-scanty materials of memory, added to substantially by what his imagination had skilfully selected of what he thought she ought to be. He had not been more successful in his creation than Nature herself, he was forced to admit, but while looking at Mrs. Thatcher he experienced the mortifying sensation of being a self-convicted bigamist.

Curiously, he had never thought of her as growing older along with him. His glance returned to the daughter's face, and in it he found a closer semblance to what his mind had pictured. She was more mature than her mother had been, yet she possessed many of the same physical characteristics. Was it possible that she might have been his daughter? Here came the third distinct shock. For the first time he had something against which to measure his own age, and involuntarily he touched his heavy head of hair to reassure himself that baldness, that advertisement of advancing years, had not overtaken him in the moment.

“Well,” Cosden interrupted his reveries; “I'm waiting to hear your first impressions.”

Huntington started guiltily, as if his friend had witnessed the gymnastics his mind had executed. It was natural that Cosden, being nearest to him, should come in for the force of the reaction.

“How do you suppose I can express an opinion on a girl half-way across a room the size of this?” he answered with as much asperity as ever crept into the evenness of his tone.

Cosden looked up surprised. “Why, Monty!” he expostulated, “don't get peevish!”

“Don't bother me with foolish questions,” was the ungracious rejoinder. “I'm studying the situation. Later I'll give you my impressions.”

“But you've seen her,” Cosden persisted. “What do you think of the perspective?”

“She is very young,” Huntington replied, regaining his composure and realizing that to fall in with Cosden's mood was easier than to explain his own.

“She's twenty—just the right age for a man thirty-eight,” was the complacent reply. “I've figured it all out. A woman grows old faster than a man, and eighteen years is just the proper handicap.”

“Which is her husband?” Huntington asked.

“Her husband?” Cosden repeated after him.

“I mean her mother's husband,” Huntington corrected hastily; “which one is Mr. Thatcher?”

“The man with the smooth face; I don't know the others. We'll meet them later.”

As the party left the dining-room Mr. Thatcher recognized Cosden and fell behind to greet him.

“Well met!” he exclaimed cordially, after being presented to Huntington. “It is a relief to see some one I know. Down here on a vacation trip, I suppose?”

“Why—yes,” Cosden hesitated, seeing some deeper meaning behind the bromidic question; “that is, I thought so until I saw you. Now I'm not quite sure.”

Thatcher laughed. “I had the same idea, but I can't seem to get away from business; it pursues me! I've stumbled onto something—not very tremendous, but still it may be a good thing. I'd be glad to have you look it over with me if you care to. We'll discuss it later if you don't object to talking shop during leisure hours.”

Cosden's face assumed that keen, resourceful expression which his friends knew so well. “I'm never too much at leisure to discuss business,” he said.

“Good! Now, when you and Mr. Huntington have finished dinner, join us on the piazza and we'll all have our coffee together.”

Huntington looked at his friend significantly as Thatcher moved away. “I didn't come down here on a business trip,” he suggested.

“It won't interfere with you at all,” Cosden reassured him. “Thatcher is a big man, and has a good eye for things. What he has in mind may be well worth looking into.”

“So long as you don't let it divert us from our main purpose I won't object,” Huntington conceded gravely; “but the spirit of the chase is on me, and I can't mix sport and business. This is the first time I have ever approached a girl from a matrimonial point of view, even vicariously. I'm beginning to enjoy it and I refuse to be thrown off the scent.”

       * * * * *

There is no moon like a Bermuda moon. The contrast between its soft yet brilliant light—as it fell first upon the harbor, throwing the islands into silhouette, then flooding the piazza—and the electric glare, out of which the two men stepped ten minutes later, made a deep impression upon Huntington. The eyes of his friend, however, were focused upon the little party, chatting merrily about the table, awaiting their arrival.

“I had them postpone our coffee,” Thatcher explained as he presented Cosden to the Stevenses and to Hamlen, and Huntington to each. “We shall enjoy it the more for having you with us.”

Huntington found himself sitting between the daughter and Hamlen, while Cosden sat next to Mrs. Thatcher across the table. There had been no recognition, and Huntington was glad of it; he preferred to introduce the subject in his own way and at his own time. The girl, however, had already discovered a bond.

“Aren't you Billy Huntington's uncle?” she asked.

“Yes,” he admitted; “but where in the world did you meet him?”

“He is a particular friend of my brother Philip's,” she explained. “Philip is a year ahead of him at Harvard, you know, but they are great pals. My brother always has him at the house whenever he's in New York.”

“Well, well!” laughed Huntington. “The young rascal never told me anything about it! But wait a minute—Phil Thatcher—why, of course! Billy has had him in to dine with me several times. So he's your brother!”

“Yes; I was sure I was right,” she smiled. “We're friends already, aren't we?”

“We are,” Huntington acquiesced gravely; “and I shall do something particularly nice for Billy to show my appreciation of what he has done for me.”

Mrs. Thatcher caught the general drift of her daughter's conversation, and she leaned across the table.

“Are you not a Harvard man, Mr. Huntington?” she asked. “If so, you and Mr. Hamlen must have been in college at about the same time.”

“Yes,” Huntington replied; and turning to Hamlen he gave the year of his graduation.

“That was my Class also,” was the reply; but there was nothing in Hamlen's manner to invite reminiscence.

“Hamlen—Philip Hamlen,” Huntington repeated meditatively. “I don't believe we knew each other, did we? But the name is familiar. I have it! You are the lost Philip Hamlen our Class Secretary has been searching for; I have seen the name in the list of missing men each time a Class Report has been issued. You must send him your history, my dear fellow. We're proud of our Class, and we don't want to lose sight of a single member.”

There was a bitterness in Hamlen's voice as he replied. “My history would interest no one; it is better that I remain among the 'missing men.'”

Huntington sensed at once what lay behind his classmate's response. “No college graduate can afford to do that,” he expostulated. “Whether one wishes it so or not, he has accepted a heritage which carries with it responsibilities, and these force him to his capacity for the honor of his Class and of his Alma Mater.”

Mrs. Thatcher was following the conversation not only with interest, but with a certain degree of anxiety.

“Mr. Huntington is right, Philip,” she added; “you know that he is right.”

Hamlen moved uneasily in his chair. “It is curious how much more interested our classmates become in us after we separate than while we are together in college,” he said significantly.

“Why is it curious?” Huntington persisted. “Why is it not the natural sequence of events?”

“You could not understand.” Hamlen spoke with rising emotion. “You had everything in college; I had nothing. You remember my name only because you've seen it listed amongst the 'missing men'; but I knew you the moment I saw you. Back there you were Monty Huntington, manager of the crew, member of all the exclusive societies, in everything, a part of everything. Your classmates courted your acquaintance, and the four years at Cambridge meant something to you. To me they meant nothing except what I learned in the class-rooms. You as an alumnus owe all that you say to the Class and to the Alma Mater, for both gave you much; I owe them nothing, for they gave me nothing.”

“My dear fellow!” Huntington expostulated hastily, “forgive me for touching on so tender a subject; yet I am glad I did, for it is only fair that you let me set you right. The college world is a small one, and its citizens are young, untried boys. They are sometimes selfish and cruel and unreasonable without meaning it, while they are enjoying what is to most of them their first freedom, and they are trying to conduct themselves like full-grown men. There are heartburns which at the time seem tragedies. Then the undeveloped citizens of this little world, the biggest of them, pass out into the great world, for which the college life is only a training-school, and become infinitesimal parts of it. There the ratio becomes readjusted. What seemed essentials—like the clubs, for instance, or athletics—become non-essentials as the men look back upon them; become simply pleasant memories of delightful companionship. The next few years represent the real trying-out period, and each member of the Class measures up his fellow-members by what they have done since college. The mere fact of being members of the same Class is the bond. I don't care what you did in college, Hamlen; but I sha'n't let you get away from me until you tell me what you've done since, or until you promise that I shall see you when next you come to Boston. The fact that I didn't know you in college makes me the more keen to know you now.”

“I thank you a thousand times!” Mrs. Thatcher cried impulsively. “What you have said in five minutes will do more to set Mr. Hamlen right than weeks of argument from me. I found him to-day in a veritable paradise which he has built here, and where he has lived alone practically since he left college. I am trying to persuade him to come back into the world again, and you can help me to accomplish it.”

Hamlen was visibly affected by Huntington's cordiality. “This has been a bewildering day,” he said. “For over twenty years I have lived alone, nursing a resentment toward college and life in general until it has come to be a religion. This afternoon Mrs. Thatcher finds me unexpectedly and begins to batter down my defenses; now Mr. Huntington, without realizing it, attempts to complete the demolition. Don't wonder that I'm not myself to-night; but I thank my classmate for what he has said, just as I thank Mrs. Thatcher for her earlier efforts.”

“Mr. Huntington,” Thatcher remarked, “you have given Stevens and me a new idea of the value of a college degree. I wasn't especially keen about having my boy go to college, but now, by George! I wouldn't have it otherwise.”

“Huntington is a living propagandum for Harvard,” Cosden said lightly, realizing the desirability of leading the conversation into a less serious channel. “My degree represents simply an additional tool to use in carving out success, to him it means idolatry. If Huntington's house was on fire, I should expect to see him climbing down the firemen's ladder in his pink pajamas with his precious sheepskin under his arm carried as tenderly as a mother would a child.”

“Oh, you may make light of it,” Huntington replied good-naturedly, “but Hamlen and I are treading on sacred ground. The one weakness of college life is that the opportunities it offers come before we are competent to appreciate or embrace them. That is what brings about the condition which he has misunderstood. It would be much better if we all could have two years of college when we're seventeen and the other two when we're forty.”

The conversation drifted into smoother channels, but by the time the party separated the acquaintance had developed to a point far beyond an ordinary first meeting. Underneath it different elements were at work in each one's mind and heart, put in motion by the unexpected intensity of almost the earliest words which had been exchanged. Hamlen was the first to leave. He said good-night casually to the group, but managed to separate Huntington from the others.

“You have done much for one of your classmates to-night,” he said simply. “I thank you for it.”

“Nonsense!” Huntington protested. “I'm more than delighted to have this opportunity to know you—and I want to know you better.”

“Will you come to my villa some day this week?”

Hamlen seemed to hang expectantly upon the answer.

“Of course,” Huntington replied promptly. “If you hadn't asked me, I should have come anyhow. It's an inherent right which I demand.”

Hamlen pressed his hand and turned to Mrs. Thatcher, who walked with him to the door.

“I don't know whether to thank you or to curse you, Marian,” he said feelingly in a low voice. “Through you I have had more interjected into my life in this single day than in the twenty-odd years which have passed by. Is this the dawn of a to-morrow or the epitome of human suffering? Are you my Genius or my Nemesis? Before God I ask the question seriously. I myself cannot answer it.”

“Don't try,” she answered, smiling; “let Time do that!”

V

       * * * * *

Cosden had been sitting on the hotel piazza half an hour when “Merry” Thatcher emerged from the dining-room, gazed about the almost total vacancy as if looking for some one, and then advanced, recognizing in the solitary smoker an acquaintance of the night before.

“I'm always the first one,” she complained after greeting him. “We're going sailing this morning, but I might have known that no one else would be down for breakfast at anywhere near the appointed time.”

“Why not cheer me up while you're waiting?” Cosden suggested. “I formed the habit of early rising years ago when I had to do it; now that I don't have to, the habit still sticks.”

“Mr. Huntington hasn't appeared yet?” she inquired.

Cosden laughed, and then looked at his watch. “When you come to know Mr. Huntington better you will admire his mathematical precision: he is never late, but he never arrives a moment earlier than is necessary. The breakfast hour is over at nine-thirty; at nine-fifteen you will observe the gentleman leisurely strolling in the direction of his table, with every detail of his morning dress perfectly adjusted, as if the world had placed all its time at his disposal, when in reality he can just get his order in and have it served hot.”

The girl smiled at the description of his friend. “Not many men are so dependable,” she commented.

“There is only one William Montgomery Huntington,” Cosden admitted cheerfully. “It would be exactly the same if the closing of the breakfast room was four-thirty instead of nine-thirty.”

The smile on her face changed to a deeper expression as she looked out across the harbor. She turned to Cosden suddenly.

“Wasn't he splendid last evening when he talked about the responsibilities of college life! For the first time I wished I were a boy!”

“He is a very intense person on some subjects; that happens to be one of them.”

The girl could not fail to interest Cosden, even if he were not already attracted by his previous slight acquaintance, for the present mood showed her at her best. The nickname “Merry,” given to distinguish the younger Marian from her mother, scarcely served as a descriptive appellation, for underneath the girlish vivacity ran a serious vein which gave her unusual poise, and made her seem older than she was. To Cosden she appeared at that moment the embodiment of attractive girlhood, for the big panama, almost encircling her face, well set off the dark hair and the sympathetic brown eyes, while the color which plainly showed in her cheeks, despite the depth of the complexion, gave just the touch needed to heighten the effect. The soft lines of the white flannel skirt and the pink silk sweater disclosed the youth and litheness of the figure. Cosden was surprised to find himself noticing these details so carefully, and accepted the fact as evidence that his interest in the girl was even deeper than he had supposed.

“I love intensity in men,” she said simply; “so many seem ashamed to show it no matter how strongly they may feel!”

“That is due to the training of life,” Cosden explained, caring little what direction the conversation took so long as they became better acquainted. “The higher up you go, the greater the repression. Diplomacy is the climax of gentlemanly concealment of one's real feelings, and the art among arts of courteous insincerity. In business, of course, there's a reason—”

“Can't a man be sincere in business?” she asked, looking at him with eyes so deep and straightforward in their expression that he found the question disconcerting.

“Why,—of course,” he stumbled; “but 'sincerity' isn't exactly a business expression. If I let you know by my manner that I was eager to buy something which you wanted to sell, or to sell something you wanted to buy, it would naturally affect the price, wouldn't it?”

“Ought it to?” she persisted. “Why isn't that taking advantage?”

Cosden smiled indulgently. “Some time, if you like, I will give you a learned discourse on values and what affects them, but anything so erudite now would take your mind off the gaieties of your sailing trip.”

“Will you?” Merry exclaimed delighted. “Father always makes fun of me when I ask serious questions. I am sure I should hate business, because it seems always to be a question of taking advantage of some one else; but I should like to know something about it.”

“You don't approve of taking advantage of some one else?”

“It is exactly the opposite of what we are taught to consider right, isn't it?”

“How about bargain-sales when you are home?” Cosden asked with apparent innocence. “Do you ever patronize them?”

“Why, yes,” Merry replied frankly; “I frequently wait for them when I want some particular thing, and my allowance is running low.”

Cosden laughed outright. “If consistency were really a jewel, then would woman go unadorned!”

“How in the world are you going to twist what I said into an inconsistency?”

“I'll let you make the demonstration yourself. Here is the problem: a dealer, believing a demand to exist for a certain article, lays in a stock to supply that demand. If you, and other dear ladies who really intend to buy the article, purchased when he first offered it for sale, his estimate of the demand would have been correct. But you all have learned the habits of the shops, so instead of rushing to his counters you play 'possum until the dealer really believes that he has over-estimated the demand, and down goes the value to him and consequently the price to you. Then you rush frantically from your lairs and secure the article you have really wanted from the beginning at a bargain price. Don't you admit that you are taking advantage of the dealer?”

“Oh, you men do put things in such a disagreeable way!” Merry laughed. “We have to do that to protect ourselves against the outrageous prices they charge in the first place.”

“It's all a game,” Cosden said seriously, “and a mighty fascinating one. So long as you stick to the rules you may bluff all you choose, and the best bluffer takes the blue chips.”

“I'm sure I should hate it,” Merry repeated. “I'm going to learn to be a teacher, so that if some one outbluffs father I can fall back upon a respectable pursuit.”

“Even then you'll still be in the bluffing game,” chuckled Cosden. “Think of the knowledge a teacher has to assume which he doesn't possess!”

“Oh, dear!” she exclaimed in despair. “Why be an iconoclast? You leave me nothing but matrimony—”

“The worst bluff of all,” interrupted Huntington, stepping forward from behind their chairs, immaculate in white flannels and a panama which rivaled Merry's. “Seeing Mr. Cosden in an academic mood, I could not resist the temptation to snare the nuggets of wisdom which fell from his lips. This must be my excuse for eavesdropping.”

“There he is,” Cosden said significantly to Merry. “You'd never dream that he'd come within an ace of missing his breakfast, would you?”

“Missing what?” Huntington demanded. “In what little pleasantry has my friendly critic been indulging himself?”

“Let the critic answer for himself,” Cosden retorted. “I predicted to Miss Thatcher the exact moment when you would appear, thus proving myself a prophet.”

“You take yourself too seriously, Connie. You're no prophet, nor even the son of a prophet; you're simply a good observer. Some men run a block and then wait five minutes for a car; I learned years ago that it was wiser to walk deliberately to the white post and arrive there at the precise moment. But I don't let that car get away from me, my friend.”

“If my memory serves me right, Mr. Huntington, you were not always so deliberate,” remarked Mrs. Thatcher significantly.

Huntington looked up quickly, unaware until then that the other late breakfasters had followed so closely on his heels.

“The night has been telling tales,” he said.

“It was stupid of me not to recognize you before,” she answered.

“Do you and Mother know each other?” Merry asked, much interested in the new turn of the conversation.

“Your mother,” said Huntington gravely, “did me the honor to accept my escort to our Senior Dance—I won't tell you how many years ago. She deliberately broke my heart, sailed away to Europe, and then returned and married your father, just out of pique. Now that you know the story of my life, I ask you, why should I accelerate my motions, as my captious companion seems to think I should, when your mother's quixotic conduct deprived me years ago of all possible incentive?”

“Then you are really the Monty Huntington I knew!” Mrs. Thatcher exclaimed. “I was sure of it when you spoke of your Class to Philip Hamlen.”

“I was sure it was you before you spoke at all,” he said quietly. “I recognized an aroma the moment I came into your presence—”

“An aroma?” Mrs. Thatcher interrupted questioningly.

“I know not whether it was fragrance or reminiscence, but either is equally sweet.”

Huntington's gallantry, half assumed, half real, as it seemed to those who heard his words, passed simply as a pleasantry with all except Cosden, who knew his friend too well not to recognize the presence of something deeper beneath the lightly spoken expressions. But Thatcher's voice brought him back from his surmises.

“We are counting on you both to join us,” he insisted. “Our party will be incomplete without you.”

“Please come,” Mrs. Thatcher added. “For the last twenty-four hours I have been renewing all my girlhood friendships, and poor Edith Stevens here hasn't had a chance even to express an opinion. That for Edith is real self-sacrifice.”

“Edith is sitting back and learning a thing or two,” Miss Stevens retorted calmly.

“Do come and give her a chance to demonstrate,” Mrs. Thatcher appealed.

“I suppose bachelors are as necessary to the demonstration as guinea-pigs to the laboratory,” Huntington said. “Come on, Connie; let us take a chance.”

No truer statement had ever been made in jest than that the previous twenty-four hours had been a period of self-sacrifice to Edith Stevens. She was younger than Mrs. Thatcher, and their friends accused them of accepting each other as foils to accentuate their contrasting characteristics. Miss Stevens was slight and erect, and was always gowned with a taste and skill which gave her an air of distinction; her friend possessed such striking fascination of person and manner that she gave distinction to any fashion she might adopt. Mrs. Thatcher's activities accomplished results; Edith's seemed simply the expression of an eternal unrest. The younger woman's hair was light, and her eyes blue, while Mrs. Thatcher was a perfect brunette; and the approach of the two women to the same subject was always from a different standpoint. Yet they had been the closest of friends from school days.

Except with Marian, Edith, as a rule, dominated the situation at all times. Now, however, she found herself absolutely side-tracked, while her friend occupied the center of the stage in the interesting character of past or present object of admiration from three perfectly good men. Men were a hobby with Edith Stevens. Her brother feelingly remarked that the only reason she never married was that no individual male possessed the composite attributes she demanded. To be one of three women, surrounded by five men, and not to be able to command the attention of any one of them except her brother was nothing less than irony. She had tried flirting with Thatcher years before, and had long since given him up in despair; Hamlen was annexed by Marian before she had even a chance to compete, and of the two remaining eligibles Huntington suddenly confessed himself a part of the flotsam her friend had left behind in her beblossomed path toward the altar.

“Take one more look at Mr. Cosden, Marian,” she said maliciously, as the little party walked slowly down the steps toward the yacht. “Perhaps he, too, was an early admirer.”

Mrs. Thatcher laughed. “No,” she reassured her, “I'm sure he never crossed my horizon until last night. I'll renounce all claims on him, but don't you set your cap for Philip Hamlen; I have other plans for him.”

“Where is Mr. Hamlen?” Edith demanded. “Didn't you invite him?”

“No,” Marian replied quickly. “It would be cruel not to give him time to recover his balance after yesterday. Heigh ho!” she sighed. “I wonder whether I'm glad or sorry that I found him here.”

“I've been waiting for a report on that reunion,” Edith said suggestively. “I haven't forgotten the letters which we used to read together years ago.”

“Weren't they wonderful?” Marian exclaimed. Then she added, after a pause, “I don't believe I realized until yesterday the depth of suffering which a sensitive soul can reach.”

VI

       * * * * *

The sailing-party disembarked at the landing steps of the “Princess” shortly after six o'clock, and were greeted by a tall young man whose face was almost concealed by the broad brim of his hat, turned down as if to protect its owner from possible prostration from the sun. At the opposite end of the young man the white trouser-legs were turned up at least two laps higher than would have been expected, so that hat and trousers together made a normal average. Below the turn-up of the trousers showed a considerable expanse of white-silk hosiery, terminating in spotless white buckskin shoes; below the down-turned hat-brim was a grin which extended well across the boyish face. Altogether, the young man warranted the attention he attracted.

The skipper made so perfect a landing that the identity of those on board was disclosed only at the last moment; but the single glance the young man had was sufficient to reassure him, and he stepped forward eagerly.

“Hello, everybody!” he cried cheerfully. “Wish you Happy New-Year!”

Merry was the first to grasp the significance of the excitement. “Why, it's Billy Huntington!” she exclaimed.

“Of course,” he admitted, still grinning; “who else would charge down here like a young dace just for the pleasure of wishing you the compliments of the season?”

The young man paused long enough to assist the ladies over the rail, with a greeting to each.

“There's your uncle,” Merry said, nodding in the direction of the men; “don't you recognize him?”

“Surest thing you know,” Billy answered, still hanging back. “I'm waiting to see if he will recognize me, under all the circumstances.”

“Come here, you young rascal,” Huntington responded to the implied question as he stepped on the pier; “come here and give an account of yourself.”

“Well,” Billy replied slowly, clinging to the extended hand as a refuge, “you see I didn't know Mr. Cosden came down with you, and it was vacation, and I thought you'd be awfully lonely here without me—”

“I see,” his uncle said dryly; “it was all on my account.”

Billy seemed to feel the necessity of further explanation. “Of course I knew Merry—the Thatchers were here. Phil told me—”

“Too bad Philip couldn't have come with you,” Mrs. Thatcher remarked.

“Yes; he went up to the Lawrences' house-party for over Christmas as he planned.”

“How did you leave your worthy parents?” Huntington inquired.

A look of dismay passed over the boy's face. “I forgot to telegraph them from New York, and I meant to cable just as soon as I arrived.” Then an expression of relief came to his assistance: “But they'll know I'm with you—somewhere.”

Huntington sighed. “Another reckoning for me when I return!” he said resignedly; “but it's worth it all to know that you 'charged down here like a young dace' as soon as you realized your poor uncle's 'awful loneliness.'”

“Then it was you who tried to signal us from the tender?” Merry came to his rescue.

“Yes; I thought it was you; I wigwagged until I almost plunged overboard. I've got to go back Monday, to reach Cambridge in time to register, so I hated to lose a whole day out of three.”

“There's one thing about a college education which Mr. Huntington didn't mention last evening,” Thatcher remarked to Cosden as they walked toward the bar for the anteprandial cocktail; “it gives a boy freedom of action and breadth of imagination.”

“Huntington left out a whole lot of things he might have touched on,” Cosden said testily. “That's a topic on which we don't agree, and never shall. There is a boy with many sterling qualities going to waste because Monty has more wishbone than backbone in the matter of discipline.”

“Don't get started on that, Connie,” Huntington's voice came from the rear. “I've no doubt it's deserved, but that boy keeps me from remembering that my own days of irresponsibility are so far behind me. I believe I enjoy him the more because I haven't a parent's duty to perform.”

“It's a sort of reciprocity without personal liability,” laughed Thatcher.

“Exactly. I wonder sometimes if what we gain by experience is worth what we lose in illusion.—Aren't you coming up-stairs to dress for dinner, Billy?” Huntington continued, as his nephew and Merry walked past them, engaged in an animated conversation.

“Don't wait for me,” was the prompt response. “I'm a bear at dressing, and I'll be ready before Dixon has put in your collar-studs.”

“I feel easier down here since I know that you're off duty, too, and not likely to upset my apple-cart while I'm away,” Thatcher remarked to Cosden with a smile. “Did you know, Mr. Huntington,” he continued, turning, “that your friend is a wrecker of other men's plans?”

“It's the best thing he does,” Huntington agreed promptly. “That exactly explains my presence here.”

Cosden was immensely pleased by Thatcher's acknowledgment of his importance, but he tried to carry it off lightly.

“Oh, well,” he said indifferently, “you must let me have my innings once in a while. I have to get to you sometimes to make up for other bouts which I've been glad to forget.”

“You'll join us, of course,” Thatcher added, to Huntington.

“I can resist anything but temptation,” Huntington replied soberly; “I love the enemy.”

“This cocktail-drinking is a curious thing,” Thatcher remarked. “In cold weather we take it to warm us up, in warm weather to cool us off; when we are depressed it is to cheer us, and when we're happy it's because we want to celebrate. And there you are.—How about the Consolidated Machinery deal?” Thatcher changed the subject abruptly, and spoke to Cosden. “Are we going to fight each other on that?”

“I'm afraid we'll have to,” Cosden admitted frankly; “but I'll be glad to talk it over with you. From here, the interests look too far apart even to compromise.”

Cosden and Huntington went up in the elevator together, leaving Thatcher on the piazza.

“What the devil did that young cub show up here for just at this time?” Cosden demanded.

“Didn't you hear?” Monty explained innocently. “He wanted to cheer me up in my 'awful loneliness.'”

“Lonely fiddlesticks!” Cosden protested irritably. “Don't you grasp the fact that his coming is going to mess things up?”

“Why, no,” Huntington said slowly, pausing at the door of his room to give his friend opportunity to finish his remarks; “I can't for the life of me see that.”

“Don't you see that it's Merry Thatcher the kid is making up to?”

“Oh, ho!” Huntington exclaimed. “So that's the situation! It was stupid of me not to understand.”

“Well, that's it; and I won't have it.”

“Of course you won't; but how are you going to stop it?”

“That's your job, Monty. It's up to you to send him about his business.”

“That doesn't appeal to me as a sporting proposition,” Huntington said after a moment's deliberation. “I didn't come down here to help you get a corner in anything, but merely as an observer, and to give you expert advice. Now you suggest a combination—trust, as it were—of two full-grown men against a half-baked boy. It isn't worthy of you, Connie, and I'm not sure that it isn't an illegal restraint of trade. Oh, no; I couldn't think of it.”

“I'd like to see you in the same situation just once,” growled Cosden. “Why the devil can't you send the boy home?”

“If I did, he'd come back so quick he'd meet himself going away,” Huntington said gravely; “but as a matter of fact I understand that he plans to go on Monday, and there's no boat sailing before then anyhow.”

He opened the door of his room and stepped inside.

“I might add, Connie,” he continued, “that if you're afraid to take chances with a boy like that I don't feel much confidence in the final outcome of your benedictine expedition.”

“I'm serious in this,” Cosden snapped back. “My bump of humor evidently got light-struck in the developing. Billy has twenty years ahead of him to pick out a girl while I haven't, and he must understand that I mean business.”

“Of course he must,” agreed Huntington. “It hadn't occurred to me until you spoke of it that there was the remotest chance of having Billy show sense enough to become interested in any girl so well calculated to make a man of him. In fact, I doubt very much whether his own intellect has carried him so far. It's all right for you or me to contemplate committing matrimony, but a young man, in these days of increasing cost of everything, is likely to become a grandfather before he can afford to be a father. Only the other day, Connie, the thought came to me that if this high cost of living continues it will make death a necessity of life.”

“You are evidently in no frame of mind to discuss anything serious now,” Cosden retorted; “I'll wait until after dinner.”

“Do!” Huntington's face brightened. “Look at the reproachful expression on the bosom of that beautiful white shirt which Dixon has laid out for me. Can't you almost hear the pathos in its tone as it asks to be filled?”

The door slammed, and Cosden's heavy tread could be heard as he disgustedly retreated down the hall to his own room.

One of the compensations of maturity is that the adjustment of proper proportions comes more quickly than to youth. It may be that Cosden saw the modicum of truth which lay beneath his friend's bantering; it may be that he was ashamed to have shown any uncertainty in his mind as to the final outcome of his embassy. At all events, he seemed to be in the best of humor when he dined with Huntington and the boy, and even accepted with good grace the unexpected announcement that Billy and Merry were to “take in” the dance at the “Hamilton.” It may be that he was determined to demonstrate his strength of mind, for when the little party reassembled on the piazza, and the young people disappeared soon after the coffee, he devoted himself to Edith Stevens with an assiduity which caused Huntington to smile quietly to himself. Stevens and Thatcher, finding the ladies well provided for, went down-stairs for a game of billiards. Mrs. Thatcher cheerfully accepted Huntington's invitation to stroll to the pier, leaving Miss Stevens and Cosden by themselves.

“I've made an appointment for you on Monday morning,” Thatcher remarked to Cosden as he passed by.

“Good! I'll keep it,” was the prompt response.

“What do you think of Marian's resurrection?” Edith asked him when they were alone.

Cosden looked in the direction of the pier. “Do you mean—” he began.

“Oh, no!” she interrupted him. “That is merely a revival, which I imagine may develop into an experience meeting. I mean Mr. Hamlen. Think of a devotion that forces a man to bury himself for twenty years! I could throw myself on his neck for restoring my lost belief in the constancy of man.”

“I hadn't heard that side of the story,” Cosden observed.

“It was while we were at school together,” Edith explained. “Marian was irresistible then—as now, and every man she met lost his head altogether; but for a time she and Mr. Hamlen were engaged. Then she married the last man we expected; but she and Harry have been very happy. It simply shows that you never can tell.”

“Did you know Hamlen then?”

“No; but I heard enough about him. If he had been merely intelligent instead of intellectual he might have had her just as well as not. He simply frightened her out of it.”

“Where did Monty come in?”

“I never heard of him; things couldn't have gone very far.”

“You remember what he said just before we started out this morning? I know him pretty well and Monty doesn't speak like that unless there is something back of it.”

“Well,” Edith laughed, “I'm sure I should have known, even so. Why, I could reel off so many names that you would think Marian was a heartless coquette; but it wasn't that at all. She simply loved attention, as all women do.”

“How about the daughter?” queried Cosden.

“Merry?” Miss Stevens interrogated. “Oh, Merry is an up-to-date, twentieth-century thoroughbred. Marian has never known just what to make of her because she isn't like other girls, but to my mind the comparison is all to her credit. I'm generous when I give the child so good a character, for I know she heartily disapproves of me.”

Cosden was pleased with the intuition he had shown in his selection. “I should think young Huntington would bore her about as much as a youngster in kilts,” he said, to draw her out.

“He is her brother's friend, she adores athletics and dancing, and she is exercising the prerogative of her age and sex.”

There was a silence of several moments, during which time Cosden was debating with himself whether it was too late for him to bring his dancing of the vintage of the nineties up to the present confusion of innovations. He had scoffed at modern dances but it might become necessary to revise his views.

“What an unusual ring you have,” Miss Stevens exclaimed, leaning over his hand which rested upon the arm of his chair. “Is there a romance connected with it?”

Cosden took it off and handed it to her. “No,” he said. “When you know me better you will understand that romance doesn't come into my make-up. I bought that ring myself particularly to avoid any sentiment. I can take it off when I like, wear it or not as I choose, and if I lose it nobody's heart is broken.”

“That is an original idea,” she laughed; then her face sobered. “I used to think romance was everything,” she said seriously. “Now I wonder if what we call romance isn't another word for illusion. As I look back at my girl friends and see how many romances became tragedies, and how many matter-of-fact marriages, like Marian's and Harry's, have developed into real unions, I'm inclined to think that romance is a form of hypnotism.”

“You've expressed my idea to a dot,” Cosden replied emphatically. “Huntington is a sentimentalist, and he stamps my common-sense ideas as evidences of a commercial instinct. I've seen just what you've seen, and I believe that the business of life rests on exactly the same basis as the business of trade.”

“Take Harry Thatcher, for example,” Edith continued her own conversation rather than replied to his; “there's nothing brilliant about him outside his business success, but you always know where to find him. He's a comfortable man to have around. With men, they say he dominates everything he goes into, but in his home,—well, every now and then he stands out just on principle, but as a matter of fact even his ideas are in his wife's name.”

Mrs. Thatcher and Huntington approached them returning from their moon-bath on the steps of the pier.

“Did you ever see so wonderful a night, Edith?” she exclaimed with enthusiasm. “This atmosphere, and the renewing of my friendship with Mr. Huntington, make me feel like a girl again.”

“Monty must have been composing poetry,” Cosden remarked.

“No,” Huntington disclaimed promptly; “poetry is the one contagious disease of youth which I have escaped. But Mrs. Thatcher has helped me to set back my clock of life more than twenty years, and that is an achievement of which I feel justly proud.”

VII

       * * * * *

Sunday morning found the party possessed of divers minds regarding the proper use to make of the wonderful sunshine and the mild yet bracing air, delicately scented with thousands of blooms on every side. Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher announced definitely that they proposed to hear the band concert at the Barracks, which gave a certain basis upon which to hang other plans. Billy Huntington suggested to Merry that they walk to Elba Beach, and Cosden, with the cordial disapproval of Edith Stevens and Billy, invited himself to accompany the young people on their walk. Huntington accounted for himself by reporting that Hamlen had telephoned, asking him to make the promised visit that morning, so the Stevenses joined forces with the Thatchers, and the plans were complete.

Hamlen was visibly ill at ease when Huntington arrived. It was the only time during the twenty years of his residence there that any guest had been received at his villa by invitation of its owner. The new experience excited him, but the sincerity of Huntington's admiration of the grounds, and the friendliness of his attitude, made it impossible for any barrier long to exist between them. A touch of the old-time bitterness passed through Hamlen's mind, soon after Huntington's arrival, as he thought what it would have meant to him during any one of those four years at college to have had Monty Huntington come to his room in the same spirit of comradeship! Yet, he admitted to himself, the tragedies of that small world did lose some of their poignancy in retrospect, just as Huntington had said. He had been at a disadvantage in that the world into which he had been graduated was not the great world of which his classmate spoke, but rather another little one, smaller even than that which had tortured him,—so small that he had remained still instead of growing, as the others had, into an estate from which he might look back with broader vision.

This much at least had borne fruit from the conversation at the hotel, but beyond this there was an impression still deeper which increased Hamlen's spirit of unrest. From the time when he began to feel things strongly there had existed in him a sense of justice which completely dominated his other attributes. By the time he entered college this sense had assumed exaggerated proportions, and he had reached a point where he was looking for injustices, and was quick to resent them. He might have made a place for himself in athletics had he not expected some one else to take the initiative; he might have made friends except that he waited to be sought out. When he saw other fellows around him succeed where he had failed, the sensitiveness of his nature placed his classmates on trial, appointed himself judge, and condemned them as guilty of injustice, the most heinous crime in the category of sin. As a penalty, he had banished them from his life. The fact that they bore their punishment with seeming indifference served only to twist the knife in the wound.

His devotion to Marian Seymour gave his strange nature its only outlet. Her father and his had been bosom friends in boyhood, and they had hoped to see their children bound together in even closer ties. The tense, deep nature of the boy dominated,—even more so after he went to college and she to school, and they saw less of each other. He was different from other boys she knew, and at first it pleased her vanity that he had no thought for any one else, even though he demanded so much of her. Then she became fairly terrified by his intensity, and when she broke the engagement, just after his graduation, she welcomed her release.

Her engagement and marriage to Thatcher supplied the final evidence that the whole world was built upon a structure of injustice, and Hamlen fled from it with a sense of leaving behind a thing despised. During all these years the judge had worn his ermine, and the world represented the condemned prisoner, working out its sentence, but somehow failing to gain salutary results from its long chastisement. Now a belated witness appears, supplying testimony which shakes the integrity of the judicial decision. Huntington presents the case from a position new to the self-appointed judge, and Hamlen had spent many hours since that eventful meeting wondering whether the world had really been on trial or he himself. Many of the words which Marian had spoken, which had not made their impression when he first heard them came back with redoubled force after Huntington had added his testimony to hers. “Was it their failure to understand you or your failure to give them the opportunity?” she asked. “The citizens of the college world are young, untried boys,” Huntington explained, “trying to conduct themselves like full-grown men.” What right had he to condemn them because in their youth and inexperience they had fallen below the standard older men had set? Had he a right to expect them to search him out any more than they a right to demand the same of him? “You drew me to you with irresistible force,” Marian admitted, only to make the agony the more unbearable when she added, “Then you repelled me by your intolerance of all those lighter interests which were natural to youth of our age.” Intolerance! That was a form of injustice, and he had judged her guilty upon the same indictment! “Each member of the Class measures up his fellow-members by what they have done since they have left college,” Huntington had said. Every word seemed seared into Hamlen's brain as he put himself through this fierce analysis. “What have you really accomplished?” was Marian's question.

So Hamlen had struggled with himself during the intervening hours, and now Huntington came to him as a classmate, as a friend, claiming kinship and insisting upon recognition of his claim. If Monty Huntington had been what Hamlen believed him to be in college, he would not now have forced himself upon him in spite of his own rude disclaimers of any present desire for recognition. If he had misjudged Huntington had he not misjudged his other classmates, had he not misjudged the world at large?

This was the doubt which had been raised in Hamlen's mind, and with it came a sense of responsibility and the necessity of restitution should that doubt turn into a certainty. Forty-eight hours earlier he had asked Marian, “What do I owe the world?” and it was from Huntington he received his answer. It was uncanny how closely the two opinions of the case, made by persons widely separated in viewpoint and environment, dovetailed each into the other. This interview with Huntington would settle all doubt, he was convinced, and if the injustice proved to be vested in himself alone, what was there left for him out of the wreck he had made of life? What wonder that he was ill at ease; what wonder that his heart beat more quickly as he realized that the moment of his own conviction might be at hand!

They walked about the grounds, as the others had done, and Huntington's exclamations were no less enthusiastic; yet it was obvious that this was but a prelude to the real purpose of his visit. They paused for a moment as they came back through the garden, and the hesitation forced the question from Hamlen's lips.

“Don't you care to see the view from the Point?”

“Not to-day,” Huntington answered frankly. “I want to come again and examine every cranny; but to-day, Hamlen, my interest lies in something deeper. You have shown me what you are by profession; now show me what you are by nature. You remember the old Greek adage, 'Would you know a man, give him power.' My version of it is 'Would you know a man, give him leisure'; for leisure is the expression of power, the stored-up capital of that unmeasured treasure called Time whose currency is in the blood and which promotes life itself. Here, in these grounds, your work has been similar to that of any one of us in his office. Now I want to know the man. Take me to his workshop.”

Hamlen understood him beyond the necessity of further words. He had told Marian that it was in his books that he found his relaxation, but it was not to his library that he now silently led his guest. It was to a small room on the back of the villa, in which Huntington found cases of type, a hand-press, and a bench containing every description of binder's tools. As they entered Hamlen closed the door behind them.

“I don't know why I brought you here,” he spoke apologetically, “except that by what you just said you seemed to know this place existed. No one else has ever entered with me, for I have a sentiment about it which would seem ridiculous to any one except myself.”

“It is a miniature printing-office and bindery combined!”

“This is where I spend my leisure. This is where I withdraw into a solitude even more complete than that in which I live. These books”—pointing to a case near by—“represent the pitifully meager contribution which I have made to the world while you and my other classmates have taken the positions to which you are entitled. That I show them to you now is a confession of the narrow outlook I have always had on life.”

Huntington was busy examining the volumes, one by one, giving no sign that he heard the crisp words. He turned the leaves critically, he examined the bindings, he studied the typography and the designs. Then at length he looked up.

“I was mistaken when I said I did not know you,” he remarked.

“I don't understand,” Hamlen replied.

“Printing as an art has always been a hobby of mine,” Huntington explained. “With two exceptions I have every one of these books in my collection at home.”

The color came into Hamlen's face. “You mean—” he began.

“I mean that these splendid examples of the bookmaker's art have attracted much attention among those of us who understand what they represent, and I count myself fortunate to be the first to solve the mystery which has surrounded them, when I next meet with my fellow-collectors.”

“How is it possible,” demanded Hamlen, “that any of these should have fallen into your hands?”

“Were they not placed upon the market?”

“I did not suppose any of them reached America,” Hamlen explained. “Out of curiosity to see what would happen I sent the first volumes to a dealer in London, and he has been kind enough to take the subsequent volumes as they have been issued.”

“And kind enough to himself,” Huntington added, “to call the attention of all the leading collectors to the uniqueness of the work. Some time I will show you his circulars if you care to know what he thinks of you; and I may add that there is none of us who considers his claims exaggerated.”

“Then the work is good?” Hamlen asked, unable to conceal his excitement.

“It is superb both in conception and execution; but its greatest merit is its originality. Most of the good printing and binding which we have to-day rests definitely in conception upon some one of the great master-printers or binders of the past: the work of Aldus, Jenson, Etienne, Plantin, Elzevir, Baskerville, Didot, William Morris, is drawn upon to greater or less degree by every modern printer, the volumes of Grolier, Maiolus, or Geoffroy Tory are revived in nearly every modern binding of importance; but your books are absolutely unique. Frankly, I don't sympathize with all of them, but there is not one which does not interest me. Tell me, where did you learn the art of bookmaking enough to make yourself a master?”

“Your praise is too high,” Hamlen answered deprecatingly.

“I am not praising your work,” Huntington insisted; “that would be presumptuous. Its merit has passed far beyond the point where praise from me could affect it. Each volume which comes into the market is hungrily snatched up, and we all have been eager to discover who the master was. Where did you learn so much?”

“I have been interested in the mechanics of printing ever since, as a boy, I had my first press,” explained Hamlen; “but I only turned to it seriously after I came here and felt the need of something to keep my mind engaged. I have in my library examples from probably most of the great printers and binders, but—I'm afraid you won't understand me when I say it—they have never interested me particularly, nor do they now. I am only interested in what I do myself; and when I explain I am sure you will not think me egotistical.”

“Go on,” Huntington urged as Hamlen paused, but there was a break before the speaker continued.

“You said a moment ago that you did not sympathize with some of my books; that is perfectly natural. I said just now that I was only interested in my own work; that, too, I believe, is natural. I have no knowledge of the great incunabula, I know nothing of the history of printing, and in making these few books I have had no thought of producing examples of the printer's or the binder's art: they stand to me simply as symbolic of certain phases of myself,—some good, perhaps, some bad; but all representative of my mood when they were made. I tell you, Huntington”—Hamlen continued with deep intensity—“I tell you now what I have never before put into words, that those are not books at all; they are simply the expression of a something in my soul which demands an outlet, and it comes out through my finger-tips. That sounds absurd, but it is the solemn truth!”

“Absurd?” cried Huntington. “My dear fellow, what you have just said is the explanation of the books which we collectors, poor simple fools, haven't been able to give. Don't you see that by your very act you have placed yourself among the masters? What else are the sculptures of Michelangelo, the paintings of Raphael, but the expression of their messages to the world made through the media with which they were familiar? With them it was stone and canvas, with you it is type and paper and leather. Thank God you couldn't write!”

Hamlen listened to him in amazement, unable to grasp at once the significance or the breadth of all he heard. It was natural that Huntington's last words should be the first in his hearer's mind.

“What do you mean,—'thank God you couldn't write'?”

“I mean that what you have just told me is the reason why the arts of painting, architecture and sculpture have stood still these four hundred and fifty years. Stop and think, man! Who in those arts has surpassed the work of the old masters within that limit of time? No one, I say; no one! And why? Think of your dates! Four hundred and fifty years take us back to the invention of printing. That was what did it! With all it accomplished for the cause of learning it was the death-knell to the further development of the arts; for with the invention of printing came an easier way to give to the world that message which the human soul contains. Since then the real artist, whoever he was, instead of laboring to express his message in stone, or bronze, or on canvas, has simply taken pen and ink and patient paper and given the outpourings of his soul to the dear public in the form of a book. Again I say, thank God you couldn't write!”

When Huntington turned to his companion he was amazed to see that he had dropped upon a stool, with bowed head resting on his hands, was sobbing like a child. With a woman's tenderness and intuition Huntington gently rested his hand upon his head.

“We have torn off the bandages too fast, my friend,” he said quietly. “Philip Hamlen doesn't belong among the 'missing men'; he belongs among the masters of art of his generation.”

VIII

       * * * * *

Between Cosden and Billy Huntington the breach had become well-defined during the past twenty-four hours. Up to this time the boy had considered him merely as an unsympathetic personality, whose advice to his uncle frequently made the task of carrying his point more difficult; but as the point was always eventually carried Billy had borne him no permanent ill-will. Cosden looked upon him as a spoiled child, to be punished frequently on general principles just for the good of the service. Now, however, affairs assumed a different footing: the boy, jealous of the passing moments which brought the sailing of the “Arcadian” nearer at hand, regarded the older man's action in joining in the walk to Elba Beach as a distinct intrusion; while Cosden, unconsciously applying his familiar business principles, deliberately determined to eliminate the possible competition of a diverting influence by exhibiting to the “prospect” a superior line of samples. Not that he really considered Billy worthy of such serious attention, but he was exercising that precaution which more than once had saved him from committing a business mistake.

Merry Thatcher was not unaware of the relations which existed between the two, even though Cosden's present viewpoint was naturally unknown to her. Billy had been particularly frank in his expressions the evening before, and as they started off that morning he found opportunity to paint his feelings in vivid colorings. Considering the situation as amusing rather than serious, she held herself as a neutral observer.

When it became evident that Cosden was in earnest in his suggestion to accompany them, Billy was seized with an inspiration.

“What kind of bike do you ride, Mr. Cosden?” he asked, stopping in front of the bicycle-shed of the “Princess.”

“Bike?” Cosden echoed. “I thought we were going to walk.”

“Oh, no!” Billy assured him with confidence. “It's too far for Merry to hike it along the pavements, and these roads are bully for wheels.”

“All right,” Cosden assented without further hesitation. “I haven't ridden for some time, but I guess I haven't forgotten how.”

“You know it's pretty tricky, riding down here in Bermuda,” Billy cautioned him. “You have to turn out to the left, and all that sort of thing.”

“I'll take care of that,” Cosden answered with decision, recognizing what was in the boy's mind. “You go ahead and get the wheels.”

Billy's glance at Merry as Cosden turned aside to say a word to Huntington was most expressive, and he managed to speak with her in an undertone before the older man rejoined them.

“The big stiff!” he ejaculated. “I hope he takes a header on this first hill!—You know how to ride, don't you?”

Merry's laughing nod reassured him. “Yes,” she said; “it will be loads of fun!”

“Great! then let's tear things up a bit, and give him a run for his money.”

Huntington stepped up with Cosden as the negro boy brought out the wheels.

“So you're going back to first principles, Connie?” he asked. “It must have been you who suggested bicycles.”

“No; Billy wants to show me a thing or two about riding.”

“Show you!” Huntington laughed. “You'll have your hands full, my boy, riding with him. Why, he won everything in sight in the bicycle-races on the Mott Haven team when he was in college. He was as good as a professional then, and I don't believe he's forgotten it all yet. Throw out your chest, Connie, and let the lady admire your medals.”

Billy's face fell, and he looked at Merry dubiously. “Let's walk,” he said.

“No, you don't!” Cosden insisted. “This was your idea, and now we'll see it through. Come on.”

There was a complete reversal in the boy's spirits. The way Cosden handled the wheel showed clearly enough that bicycle-riding was second nature to him, and Billy's interest in the trip had obviously waned. But Merry had already mounted and was starting on behind Cosden, so nothing remained for him but to follow. Down past the tennis-courts, out onto Front Street, winding through the closely-packed buildings of the town itself, past Parliament House and Pembroke Hall, with its magnificent group of Royal Palms, then around the harbor, they soon found themselves riding between gardens and great trees on either side, which protected the coraline houses, with their curious tiled roofs, from the glare of the sun and the inquisitive gaze of the passers-by.

“Can you take that hill without dismounting?” Cosden challenged Merry, as they approached a steep rise in the road.

“Try me!” she answered gaily.

“Oh, what's the use in tiring Merry all out?” Billy protested. “This isn't an endurance test; we're out for fun.”

“We'll wait for you,” the girl taunted him laughingly, and the two shot ahead for the hill. The boy muttered something about Mr. Cosden which undoubtedly would have been much to the point had it been heard, and pedaled hard to make up for their start, but he reached the top of the incline in considerably poorer condition than either of the others.

“Whew!” Billy puffed, “let's stop a minute; there's a dandy view from here.”

“Shall we rest?” Cosden asked Merry.

“Not on my account,” she replied unhelpfully. “I'm perfectly fresh, and the ride is exhilarating.”

“Then it would be a pity to be held back by Billy's inexperience,” Cosden commented, glancing at him with a malicious smile. “On, on to Elba Beach!”

The boy managed nearly to keep up with them for the balance of the distance, but was quite ready to throw himself on the ground when they arrived at their destination.

“Those are the 'boilers,' Billy,” Merry announced to him, as they found the expanse of sea spread out before them, with the curious coral atols in the foreground, around which the water seethed.

“Nothing that boils interests me in the least,” was the unenthusiastic reply. “Lead me to an ice-chest and I'll give it the bunny-hug. Say, Mr. Cosden, you are some rider, aren't you? And Merry is no slouch!”

“I'm glad you suggested the change,” Cosden said. “I have underrated your headwork, my boy.”

“You certainly ride mighty well for a man your age,—doesn't he, Merry?” Billy continued with apparent good humor, but, aggravated to a point of impertinence by the patronizing attitude, he determined to break even with his tormentor. “Your wind is good, and the way you pedaled up that hill made me forget that you were old enough to be my father. You're mighty well preserved, aren't you?”

Cosden was nettled. “Your idea of age needs some revision,” he retorted sharply. “If I were to figure things the same way, I would suggest that the next time you come to Elba Beach you use an automobile perambulator instead of a bicycle.—Now let's call it quits.”

“They don't allow automobiles down here,” Billy corrected seriously. “That's one reason why I came. I never want to see a buzz-wagon again.”

“Skid, collision, run-over, smash-up—” Merry began helpfully.

“No—worse still,” Billy rejoined slowly, evidently surveying the past in his mind.—“Say, Phil was in this, too.”

“Phil?” the girl echoed anxiously. “He wasn't hurt, was he?”

“No, not hurt exactly; but we both had the shivers all right, and the more I think it over the less of a joke it seems to me. You see, Bud Warner has a crackerjack car, and he asked Phil and me to dash out with him one afternoon. The first thing we knew he turned in at a place out in Belmont, rode to the front door, and went on in to fuss a dame there that he's been rushing. Well, Phil and I cooled our heels half an hour waiting for him and then we thought we'd get even by giving him the slip, for it was a good two miles' walk to the cars and Bud is no bear as a walker. We slid out with the motor all right, but just before we reached Harvard Square a wise-guy cop pinched us for stealing the car, and ran us both in.”

“Arrested you for stealing?” Merry demanded.

“Surest thing you know,” Billy confirmed. “When Bud found we'd slipped him, he was sore, and to get even he telephoned the police-station, gave them the number of the car, and said it had been stolen. Oh! we were in bad, for fair.”

“And Uncle Monty far from home,” commented Cosden.

“Yes,” Billy admitted; “I didn't know it at the time or I should have been still more peeved. Well—we stayed there in the cooler for two hours when Bud showed up and was brought in where we were. He gave us the once over, and acted as if he'd never seen us before in all his young life. 'I couldn't have believed it of such respectable-looking young men,' he said,—the darned hypocrite! 'I couldn't send them to State's prison,' said he, 'on account of their families.' Then he made an imitation like thinking, and finally he said, 'Officer, I withdraw the charge of theft, but ask you to hold the prisoners for exceeding the speed limit.—What's the bail? I'll help them out for the sake of their families.' So he bailed us out, and we went back together, with Bud thinking he'd played us a fine, swell joke.”

“Did you jump your bail?” Merry inquired, thoroughly amused.

“No; we didn't dare. We came up before the judge next morning, and it cost us ten bones apiece and costs. That's what made me so short on my Christmas money.”

“I'll guarantee you found some way to get around that,” Cosden said, suggestively egging him on to display his youthfulness.

Billy grinned. “I had to,” he admitted. “I thought I could get some money from Uncle Monty, but he had gone away, so I had Mother's present charged to Father, and Father's present charged to Mother.”

“Frenzied finance!” cried Cosden, amused in spite of his desire to disparage the boy. “You are wasting your time in college; you should be in Wall Street.”

“Your advice ought to be good, Mr. Cosden,” agreed Billy, “for you certainly know how to make your money work overtime. I can always tell when Uncle Monty gives me any of the tired cash he wins out of you from the gratitude it shows for getting a little rest.”

Cosden did not like Billy's come-backs, and he did not like the amusement which he saw restrained in Merry's face. Still, he accepted the responsibility in large measure for putting himself on the boy's level.

“I'd like to have charge of your business education,” he said significantly.

“It may come to that,” the boy said with a total lack of enthusiasm. “That's the one real threat Uncle Monty always holds over me.”

“You are impertinent—” Cosden realized that the ragging was going too far.

“Who began it?” was the retort.

“Who is going to invite me to have some strawberries and cream?” Merry interrupted, feeling it to be her mission to come to the rescue, and recognizing Billy's mistake in antagonizing so close a friend of his uncle.

Billy was on his feet in an instant, but Cosden was ahead of him.

“I know the place,” Merry said. “You see, I'm the old settler here, so I'll show you all the attractions. Think of strawberries and cream in January!—Won't you go ahead of us, Mr. Cosden, and ask the boy to put a table out on the piazza? It will be lovely there.”

As Cosden moved out of earshot she turned to her companion.

“You must not upset him like that, Billy,” she reproved him firmly; “your uncle will never forgive you.”

“He has no right to butt in on us,” the boy protested gloomily.

“But he's here, and you must be civil to him. Think how much older he is than you are, and you're quarreling with him as if he were your own age.”

“Oh, I'll be civil to him if he'll only can his grouch. Why, he got sore with me for kidding him about his age, yet you noticed how old he is yourself.”

“He isn't old, Billy. Why, he's younger than Mr. Huntington, isn't he?”

“Perhaps he is; but Uncle Monty always makes you feel that he's your own age. I never think of him any differently than I do of any of my other pals. But Mr. Cosden—ugh!”

“I know, Billy; but you don't want to say anything that will queer you with your uncle, do you?”

Billy looked at her quizzically before he replied, then his broad, good-natured grin replaced the frown.

“I get you, Stevie—what's the feminine for Steve, anyhow? You mean that a fellow ought not to make pate de foie gras out of the goose that lays the golden eggs.—Say, Merry, you're wonderful, you are,—simply wonderful!”

IX

       * * * * *

On their return from the Barracks Mrs. Thatcher and Edith Stevens left the men on the piazza and went up-stairs for the ostensible purpose of lying down, but with that ease with which two women change their plans when once alone they found themselves sitting in Marian's room, engaged in a heart-to-heart conversation.

“I really think he might do,” Edith remarked, a propos of nothing.

As Mrs. Thatcher was intimately acquainted with Edith's mental processes the remark was more intelligible than might have been expected.

“You don't mean Philip Hamlen?”

Edith laughed. “No; you warned me off of him yesterday. I mean Mr. Cosden.”

“At it again?” Marian laughed. “Edith, you are absolutely incorrigible! It has been so long since you have played ducks and drakes with a man that I really believed you had reformed. You are old enough to know better!”

“I presume it will be the same with him as with the others,” Edith sighed. “That is my great weakness, I admit: I like a man just so long, and then he bores me stiff. I don't see how a married woman stands it to have only one man around her all the time. If you were as honest as I am you would admit that it would be a relief to you, every now and then if you could pour out your breakfast coffee with some one else sitting in front of you instead of Harry.”

“Harry answers very well, thank you.”

“Habit, nothing else,” Edith insisted. “He's as much a part of the family furniture as the grand piano. But that's what gives me hope: if you and so many other women can endure it, why can't I?”

“There are hundreds of men; why pick on Mr. Cosden?”

“I had a long, experimental conversation with him last night while you and Mr. Huntington were holding your revival meeting on the pier, and I really think he might do. Tell me what you know about him.”

“Only what Harry has told me. They have had some business dealings together, and Harry says he has made a lot of money. The fact that Monty Huntington is his friend is his best recommendation.”

“Mr. Huntington has a good social position in Boston, hasn't he?”

“Good heavens, yes! I believe one of his ancestors discovered Beacon Street, or something of that kind; but that doesn't imply that Mr. Cosden has the same position. A bachelor may have friends at his clubs whom he does not necessarily bring into his social circle,—especially in Boston.”

“Mr. Cosden is frightfully commercial,” Edith meditated aloud.

“So are you,” Marian broke in laughing.

“I don't mind that,” Edith continued, “so long as he has a human side. I believe I could serve as a counter-irritant to keep him from remaining merely a machine.

“You mustn't take away his capacity as provider,” Marian teased her; “he would need a fairly stiff income to sail the good ship 'Edith Stevens.'”

“With everything I want costing more and everything I own yielding less, that is of vital importance, of course. But I really believe Cossie—Connie—whatever they call him, might do.”

“Well, it's fine to have that all settled, my dear,” Marian agreed, still showing her amusement. “Now, when are you going to break the news to him?”

“Ah! that's another question!” Edith answered, entirely unabashed. “Couldn't you find out from Mr. Huntington something about his hobbies and his antipathies?”

“Of course; unless you select some one else in the mean time. Perhaps we'd better wait until after luncheon.”

“Oh, I'm serious,” Edith protested,—“provided of course that he measures up all right. The more I think it over the more serious I become. Ricky was particularly trying this morning; I'm aghast at the amount of last month's bills, and all in all it makes me realize the importance of not letting one's age become an indiscretion. Even you referred to my passing years.”

“Poor Ricky!” Marian said sympathetically; “he never gets any credit for sacrificing himself.”

“I've acted in the interests of my sex,” Edith asserted stoutly. “Ricky is a joke. Except for the fact that he's my own brother I'd say he was a scream. If it hadn't been for me he would have married some girl and bored her to extinction. She couldn't have escaped him, but I can. Somebody owes me a debt of gratitude.”

“Well,” Marian sighed, “I wish you luck; if Mr. Cosden isn't smart enough to protect himself it will be his own fault.”

“Why be catty, Marian?” Edith retorted with asperity. “It isn't becoming.”

Marian laughed. “You silly child!” she said. “You are the most supremely selfish creature in the world, but you are so blissfully unconscious of the fact that I love you for it. Some one has to stand up for Ricky; Heaven knows he can't stand up for himself.”

“Very good.” Edith was only partly mollified. “I've no doubt Ricky will be exceedingly grateful, but if you were to ask me I'd say that you have men enough on your hands already without him. Now, I'm going to my room to dress for luncheon. Afterwards, when you find an opportunity, I want you to pump Mr. Huntington dry about Cossie—Connie—I'll never get used to that name!—and leave me to do the rest.”

Unconscious of plots and counterplots, Cosden and Huntington sauntered innocently onto the piazza after their noonday meal. Billy had managed to get himself invited to the Thatchers' table, so the two friends had lunched by themselves. Both were self-centered, but neither noticed it because of his own abstraction. Cosden was measuring up the girl as his opportunity for observation broadened, Huntington was still affected by his experience with Hamlen. Curiously enough, in spite of their friendship, or perhaps because their intimacy gave each so clear a knowledge of the other's characteristics neither one cared to speak of the subject which was uppermost in his mind. “Monty is too much of a cynic to appreciate my situation here,” Cosden told himself; and Huntington, without even mentally putting it into words, knew that Hamlen did not and never would appeal to Cosden.

Shortly after the men had lighted their cigars the party from the Thatchers' table joined them. Marian noticed that Edith casually dropped into the chair beside Cosden's, and was amused to see that she began operations at once.

“What are we going to do this afternoon?” Edith queried breezily.

“We've all been going since breakfast,” Stevens suggested; “why not sit still for a while?”

“Ricky!” said his sister severely, “no one asked your opinion. What in the world is the use of sitting still? We can do that at home.”

“What do you suggest?” Cosden asked her incautiously.

“Have you been to Harrington Sound?”

“No,” he admitted; recognizing at once that he had given an unwise opening.

“Then why don't you let me show you the way?” Edith asked, as if the thought had only just occurred to her.

A chorus of approval went up from Huntington, Mrs. Thatcher and Billy.

“Suppose we all go,” Cosden said, seeking safety in numbers.

“We have taken the drive several times,” Mrs. Thatcher abetted Edith in her conspiracy, “and I am sure Mr. Huntington is too gallant to leave us. You can drive over and back comfortably by dinner-time.”

“Won't you stop on the way home and get me some coral sand?” Merry asked. “Edith will show you the beach.”

A drive with Miss Stevens was the last thing Cosden had intended, but as there seemed no possible escape he rose to the occasion and at once ordered the victoria. Nor was the enthusiasm of Billy's send-off balm-of-Gilead to his soul as the carriage moved away from the hotel steps. Edith, in a suit of white Bermuda doe-skin, with a small purple hat perched rakishly on her head, and carrying a purple parasol with handle of abalone pearl, was looking her best, and to the amused onlookers her snapping eyes and beaming countenance seemed to promise compensation.

“I wish we might have a word together about Hamlen,” Huntington remarked to Marian as they turned back to the piazza.

“That is the very subject which is uppermost in my mind,” she replied eagerly. “You saw him this morning?”

“Yes; and he has absorbed my thoughts ever since. Suppose we sit down and talk him over.”

The others in the party left them to themselves. They had heard Huntington's preliminary remark, and understood that they had no part in the conversation.

“He is a pathetic figure,” Huntington continued, “and he has won a sympathy from me which I never remember to have given to any one before. Think of twenty years of solitude! By Jove! he is the Modern Edmond Dantes!”

“I've known him since he was a boy,” Marian said as Huntington paused for a moment. “If you are to understand the situation, perhaps I ought to tell you more. For a time, we were engaged, but these relations were broken off soon after his graduation. In fact I feel that I am to a certain extent responsible for his present condition, for he left America as soon as he heard of my engagement to Mr. Thatcher.”

Huntington looked up quickly. “That gives Hamlen and me another bond of sympathy,” he said quietly.

“What do you mean?” she asked, surprised.

“That same announcement produced disastrous effects upon my life as well.”

“Why, you never saw me half a dozen times—”

“Once was enough,” he replied seriously.

“Your imagination is as highly developed as your gallantry, Mr. Huntington,” Marian laughed; “but we mustn't let ourselves become diverted.—Philip Hamlen was always sensitive and moody, but until I discovered him down here I had no idea these characteristics could become so exaggerated.”

“He believes himself always to have been misunderstood,” Huntington added. “To-day he felt that we met on common ground, and the gratitude in his eyes still haunts me.”

“Can't we do something for him, between us?” she asked earnestly.

“We must,” Huntington assented with decision. “I am still puzzling over the problem. Have you anything to suggest?”

Mrs. Thatcher did not reply at once, and Huntington respected her silence. He realized that her answer could not be given spontaneously, that the proposition was too vital for anything but the most serious consideration. As a matter of fact, however, she had already considered it. Marian Thatcher was a woman of strong impulses, with strength of will equal to carry them through to success. She had been appalled by Hamlen's condition, and felt keenly her personal responsibility. During the hours which had intervened since the accidental meeting, many of them sleepless hours of the night, she had searched her mind for some expedient which should in part work restitution. She had discovered a possible solution, but it was of a nature so intimate that she hesitated to take Huntington into her confidence.

“I had thought—” she began at length, but then she paused. “We must pull him out of himself,” she began again; “we must get him where he will find something to think of other than himself.”

“Suppose that to be accomplished, what then?”

“I had thought—he needs—he needs a woman who believes in him, to give him courage, to restore his lost faith in himself. A friendship such as you or any other man can give will help much, but if the right woman could happen to come into his life—”

“Isn't that taking too long a step for a first one? Huntington inquired.

“Perhaps; but I feel myself so largely responsible that it would mean much to me to atone—”

Marian's intensity made its impression upon Huntington even as it had upon Hamlen; but he could not follow her. How a married woman could make atonement just at this crisis was not clearly apparent. She realized that her stumbling remarks must be confusing.

“It is difficult for me to tell you just what I have in mind,” she stated definitely at length. “You don't know me well enough not to misunderstand, and you don't know Merry. But if I am to accept your aid I must run that risk, mustn't I?”

“I shall try not to misunderstand—”

“You mustn't think me unmotherly or indelicate,” she continued. “It may be the last thing in the world which ought to happen, but if Philip Hamlen and Merry should take it into their heads to marry it would seem almost like poetic justice, wouldn't it?”

“By Jove, no!” Huntington ejaculated hastily, with visions of Cosden swimming before his eyes.

“Of course you are surprised,” Marian said, laughing consciously; “but if you think of it you must admit that Merry would make him an ideal wife, and I believe he would be a wonderful husband. Her interest has always been in men older than herself, and he is only now ready to enjoy his youth. Of course, it is only an idea, but stranger things than that have happened.”

“Well,” he said guardedly, sparring for time, “that may be the ultimate outcome; but first of all we must do a bit of humanizing. I would like to take him back to Boston to pay me a long visit if he would go. After that, we could see how things worked out.”

“Splendid!” Marian exclaimed; “and being in Boston he would be nearer my Philip. That was the one suggestion which seemed to appeal to him when I tried to persuade him to leave Bermuda. He would be much more likely to accept the suggestion from you than from me. The boy is named for him, and I believe they could do much for each other.”

“Capital!” echoed Huntington. “I know from experience how much a boy can do to keep an older man from thinking too much about himself. We are making progress. I will do my best to drag him away from here, and if I succeed we will arrange with Philip to take charge of that side of his education.”

Marian smiled gratefully as she heard the plan put definitely into words. “You have relieved me of an oppressive burden,” she said feelingly. “It is such a relief to talk the matter over with some one who really understands. Don't misjudge me by what I suggest about Merry. I can't forget the closeness of those earlier relations, I can't forget my responsibility, and I shouldn't be true to myself if I failed to do all in my power to bring Philip Hamlen back to himself.”

“His natural qualities and his helplessness form a strong appeal,” Huntington replied evasively. “I shall be glad to assist in this socialistic experiment, Mrs. Thatcher, but I'm not quite sure that I am wholly sympathetic.”

“You will see more reason in my suggestion after you know them both better,” Marian said confidently, placing her hand within the one outstretched to her. “When you do, I am sure I shall have your cordial co-operation in bringing about the match.”

“If you are right, I shall ask that my case be placed next upon the calendar.”

“Willingly!” Mrs. Thatcher laughed. “I'll find a wife within a month.”

“Heaven forbid!” he cried. “Unless—” he added slyly;—“unless you become a widow in the mean time!”

X

       * * * * *

For some reason best known to himself Huntington did not confide to Cosden the fact that Mrs. Thatcher had suggested the possibility of a match between Merry and Hamlen. She had referred to it as “poetic justice”; perhaps Huntington, knowing his friend to be unsympathetic in his relations toward poetry in general, might fail to appreciate the present application, particularly since he himself, though possessing pronounced fondness for the poets, had not fully risen to the idea. As a matter of fact, the suggestion shocked him no less than Cosden's business-like proposition concerning his own marriage. What were people thinking of, these days!

He looked forward to the morrow and to the sailing of the “Arcadian” with a sense of partial relief, for Billy's boyish infatuation and Cosden's impatient demands for interference had considerably disturbed his tranquillity. Huntington was a man of action when he so elected, and he enjoyed doing things when they were of his own choice and could be done in his own time and way; but nothing annoyed him more than to be forced into action by another's choice or election. Now, just as he saw one disturbing element about to be eliminated, another of seemingly greater magnitude loomed up on the horizon, and he cordially wished himself back in Boston with nothing more serious than the east winds to worry him.

But no disturbing element was apparent in his face as he stepped out onto the piazza after his leisurely breakfast the following morning. Glancing around, he discovered Cosden and Miss Stevens standing at the further corner, watching the hustle of the departing guests.

“You're just in time to witness the great event of the day,” she greeted him as he joined them, pleased that she had Cosden and Huntington even temporarily to herself. “One of the best things they do down here is to arrange the sailings to New York at a time when one may see the boat off without getting up at all hours of the night.”

Cosden started to speak and then paused, looking at her narrowly to make certain that by no possible construction could any answer of his be twisted into an invitation to drive to St. George's, or to some other point equally remote.

“Your remark shows that you and Mr. Huntington have much in common,” he observed at length.

“Ability to sleep is an evidence of a clear conscience,” she asserted.

“Which explains my restless nights, and the necessity of making up my quota at the wrong end,” Huntington said.

“But you come from New England, Mr. Huntington,” Edith expostulated. “I've always heard a lot about the New England conscience.”

“I'll wager you never heard anything good about it,” Huntington smiled.

“Does it ever really keep any one from doing the things he wants to do?” she asked mischievously.

“No,” Huntington answered gravely; “it simply makes him very uncomfortable while he's doing them.”

“I thought your sleeplessness might be caused by anxiety lest that precious nephew of yours forget to take the boat this morning,” Cosden remarked dryly.

Huntington was quietly amused. “How about you?” he asked.

“I'm here to throw him bodily on board at the first sign of any change of plan.”

“You speak as if you had a grudge against the boy,” Edith said, looking surprised.

“Not at all,” Cosden demurred; “Billy is all right, but he covers too much territory. Since he landed I haven't been able to put my foot on the ground without stepping on him. His Alma Mater needs Billy more than I do, and, as Monty says, we alumni must be loyal to our Dear Mother.”

“His Alma Mater will have to do without him for a few days longer unless he appears soon,” Edith remarked calmly, pointing toward the dock. “The tender has just started and will be here at the pier in a moment.”

Both men sprang to their feet.

“Where in the world can that boy be?” Huntington demanded with real concern.

“You go up to his room and I'll look around down here,” Cosden said, taking command of the situation.

Huntington disappeared with astonishing alacrity, while his friend deserted Miss Stevens to pursue the search down-stairs.

“Why don't you find Miss Thatcher?” Cosden suggested, coming back to her as the idea struck him; “that will probably locate the boy.”

“I'd rather watch the man-hunt from here,” she retorted coolly. “I don't want to miss seeing you throw him bodily on board.”

The tender came slowly alongside the “Princess” steps, taking on board the passengers from the hotel. Cosden and Huntington both appeared from different directions as the gang-plank was drawn up and the little steamer's screw began to churn. Huntington was out of breath, but not empty-handed—he carried with him a bag which showed evidences of hectic packing, with pajama strings hanging out from the partially closed top.

“He hadn't even packed his things!” Huntington panted indignantly.

“Stay here a moment,” Cosden said, leaving him standing irresolutely at the top of the stone steps, watching the stretch of water increase between the departing tender and the pier.

“Please turn this way,” Edith called, leveling her camera at him from the piazza rail. “I want to be sure to get that suit-case into the picture.”

“Wait until Connie comes back,” Huntington begged.

At that moment a disheveled figure appeared running frantically up the “Princess” driveway.

“I've lost my boat!” Billy cried with well-simulated despair.

“You did it deliberately, you young rascal!” Huntington cried, aroused at last to exasperation.

“Uncle Monty!” Billy's face wore an injured expression which would have fitted a Raphael cherub. “You know I wouldn't have missed that boat for anything. I'm sure to be rooked if I'm not in Cambridge Thursday.”

Cosden joined them in time to hear Billy's expostulations. “We couldn't let that happen,” he said comfortingly. “Come on; I've fixed it up with the jolly skipper in this motor-boat. He swears he can reach the 'Arcadian' before the tender does. Quick! there isn't a minute to lose!”

“But I haven't packed my bag—”

“Here it is!”

Huntington removed Billy's one remaining hope, and the boy saw that he was fairly beaten.

The broad grin returned to his face as he took his bag. “That's mighty good of you, Mr. Cosden,” he said, with such apparent sincerity that it disarmed his uncle's wrath. “There aren't many men who would help a fellow out like that. I won't forget it!”

He ran down the stone steps and took his place in the stern of the motor-boat. “Good-bye, everybody! Say, Uncle Monty, explain to Merry why I didn't have time to say 'good-bye' to her, and don't forget that this joy-ride is on Mr. Cosden. Good-bye!”

They watched the little boat speed after the tender, which by this time had reached the narrows; then they turned back to the piazza.

“We've succeeded in making ourselves fairly conspicuous,” Cosden remarked. “A good deal of fuss over one small boy, eh, Monty?”

“Thank you so much!” Edith cried enthusiastically as they joined her. “I haven't seen so much excitement since I arrived,—and I love to watch two live men in action.”

“It's frightful, being stared at, isn't it?” Cosden protested.

“Don't believe a word he says, Miss Stevens,” Huntington retaliated. “He really loves to be stared at; it's the disappointment on the people's faces after looking at him that causes the worry.—Now, Connie, you can put your foot on the ground without stepping on Billy. How are you planning to take advantage of your opportunity?”

Cosden glanced at his watch. “I have an appointment with Thatcher at eleven on that little business proposition. We're to meet at the 'Hamilton.' I've just about time to keep it. As for you, I suggest that you invite Miss Stevens to show you the way to the Devil's Hole. They have a wonderful collection of fish over there, which the Scotch keeper puts through their paces every little while whenever he needs the money. I commend your attention to the bachelor-fish: it has a bad disposition, makes itself obnoxious to its fellow-creatures, and would be sarcastic in its conversation if it had the power of speech.”

With this parting shot Cosden made his excuses to Miss Stevens and walked over to the “Hamilton.” His spirits had improved immensely within the past half-hour, and the proximity of his appointment caused him to forget for the moment that his vacation trip thus far had distinctly bored him. To Cosden a vacation consisted, as Henry James would have described it, of “agitated scraps of rest, snatched by the liveliest violence.” On other occasions, when he sought relaxation, he had found it in strenuous physical exercise; in the present instance he had intended to engage himself in the more unfamiliar occupation of offering a partnership to Merry Thatcher in the “Cosden Social Development Company, Limited,” although he had not expressed it to himself in just these words. In this expectation he had so far signally failed. Had he been a baron of old he might have seized the prospective bride bodily and made off with her to his ancestral castle, but, even with the handicap imposed by modern civilization, now that the diverting influence had been eliminated, he believed the opportunity was nearer to the point of offering itself. The fact that Thatcher had turned to him in this proposition, whatever it was, not only pleased him as a further evidence of recognition, but supplied him with an agreeable outlet for his pent-up energy.

Cosden had told Huntington that Thatcher was a “big man,” and his friend, having learned his business vocabulary, understood what was meant by this designation: Thatcher was a man of substantial means, held influential positions on important boards, and wielded a power in the financial circles in which he moved. Cosden had been far-sighted, he told himself, to have happened upon the scene at this particular juncture, for Thatcher would scarcely have gone out of his way to invite him to join in the enterprise except for the coincidence of their meeting; and Cosden was not averse to being included in the Thatcher group of operators.

Thatcher was awaiting him on the lower piazza when he arrived at the “Hamilton.”

“I wanted to have a few words with you before we join this promoter person up-stairs,” he explained, “so I sent Stevens on ahead to tell him we are on our way. Duncan is the man's name. He's a Scotchman who has lived down here for many years. He has little education, and you could cut his brogue with a knife.”

“I won't object to his brogue if his signature is any good at the foot of a check,” Cosden interrupted.

“He doesn't come in on that end,” Thatcher continued. “The idea is his, and he can be of service later on if we proceed with it. It isn't very large, and we can finance it easily if the thing is worth taking up at all. The scheme is to fit Bermuda out with a trolley system, and to bring the right tidy little island down to the twentieth century.”

“Not a bad suggestion,” Cosden commented,—“and a great improvement upon the present system of bicycling.” Billy would have rejoiced had he known how stiff his adversary's legs were after the famous ride to Elba Beach. “Why hasn't some one thought of it before?”

“Duncan will tell you the story as he has told me,” Thatcher said rising. “Come, let us go to him now. Ricky will have exhausted his vocabulary by this time.”

Cosden smiled at the mention of Stevens' name. “He's a curious fellow,—Stevens,” he remarked. “With that vacant expression on his face he ought to make a corking poker-player. Is he interested in this deal?”

“Ricky interested in business?” Thatcher laughed. “He would run a mile to avoid it! No, he's just a messenger this morning; but Ricky is all right in his way. He's the society member of his family. He isn't a heavy-weight, but when it comes to dancing or the latest word in men's attire, you can't overlook Ricky.”

       * * * * *

Cosden's departure left Huntington and Miss Stevens together on the piazza of the hotel. The bustle attendant upon the sailing had quieted down but Huntington had not recovered from the unusually violent action of the past few moments.

“I was going over to have another visit with Hamlen,” he remarked, “but the morning is gone.”

“It isn't eleven o'clock yet,” Miss Stevens commented.

“By Jove! is that all? Well, it's too late now, but I'll go this afternoon.—It seems as if ages had passed since breakfast! Do you suppose they'll keep that boy on board once they get him there?”

“Of course,” she laughed. “Why worry about him?”

“I'm not worrying,” Huntington protested. “I never worry,—I don't believe in it. Worry is for parents and married people generally.”

“What a cynic you are on the subject of marriage,” Edith remarked; “you never pass an opportunity to knock it, do you?”

“Am I so heartless as all that?” Huntington inquired by way of answer. “But why can't you and I, who may class ourselves among those fortunate ones who have escaped the snares, be honest with each other and enjoy watching the thraldom of others who have shown themselves less discreet?”

“How do you know that I do class myself among the fortunate ones?”

“Because you are unmarried, and seeing you is to know that you could not enjoy that blessed state except through choice.”

Edith smiled at his gallantry, wondering whether he was really as flippant as he would have her think.

“If a woman were to take that position she would be accused of 'sour grapes,' wouldn't she?”

“Probably; such is the instinctive pessimism of the times. It is so much easier to do the conventional when one sees it going on all about him that people are intellectually incapable of comprehending that to avoid the obvious may be a matter of pre-determination, and an evidence of strength rather than the result of accident or an act of omission.”

“Does Mr. Cosden share your views upon this subject?” Edith inquired.

“Not at the present moment, if I am credibly informed by my observations.”

Edith looked at him critically. “Do you mean that he is engaged?” she asked pointedly.

“Oh, no,” Huntington disclaimed promptly, conscious that he was talking of his friend with considerable freedom, but suddenly inspired with the idea that it might help the situation; “no, I didn't mean that at all. He isn't as careful as he used to be about exposing himself; that is what I was trying to say. You see, I don't know how long inoculation holds good: it's seven years for smallpox, and three years for typhoid. How long should you say a man could hold out against matrimony on the same ratio?”

“When was Mr. Cosden 'inoculated,' as you call it?” she asked, smiling.

“When he started out to make his fortune, about fifteen years ago.”

“Then I'm sure it has run out of his system long since,” she laughed. “He ought to be very susceptible.”

“I'm afraid you're right,” Huntington sighed. “Of course, Connie has a strong, robust constitution and he may pull through, but I will admit that I've seen symptoms lately which cause me some anxiety. Did you notice anything while you were out driving?”

“I noticed a good many things, but nothing which would contribute to the subject you mention. He was about as responsive as the wrong side of a mirror, but I talked at him until he had to say something in self-defense.”

“Dear me!” Huntington held up his hands deprecatingly. “That is one of the worst symptoms possible. I had no idea that it had gone as far as that. You and I must take Connie in hand.”

“Who is the girl?” Edith demanded abruptly.

“Ah! I am counting on you to help me find out.”

“It all must have happened before you came down here.”

“On the contrary; Connie was quite himself until he reached Bermuda. Since then—”

“Why, he hasn't met any one here except—”

“You and Miss Thatcher,” Huntington completed. “You see how the search narrows itself. I shall continue my investigations until I discover the truth.

“How perfectly ridiculous!” Edith cried, not yet convinced as to his sincerity. “Why, Merry is a mere child, and—what makes you think there is anything of that kind in Mr. Cosden's mind?”

“His vindictiveness. Haven't you noticed the way he treated Billy? And he has actually been harsh with me on two occasions. It isn't like Connie; and if it affects him like this now, Heaven alone knows what the outcome will be if matters go further. You know the old song:

  “You may carve it on his tombstone, you may cut it on his card,
  That a young man married is a young man marred.

“There you go again,” laughed Edith; “the cynic once more leaps into the limelight.”

“But won't you pledge yourself to assist me in my noble work? Why not form ourselves into a society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Single Persons, and be sworn to do all we can to intervene between matrimony and its victims?”

“Of course each would be at liberty to use his own judgment?” queried Edith, amused.

“Yes; so long as he did not confound judgment with sentiment.”

“That is a capital suggestion,” she agreed smiling. “I will gladly join you. Our first undertaking, I presume, will be to prevent affairs from going any further between Merry and Mr. Cosden—granting that they exist?”

“I don't say that. I recognize in you a superior person, and as such I have absolute confidence that you will act in accord with the unwritten constitution of our Society.”

“Thank you for that confidence,” Edith said still smiling. Then she added enigmatically, “Whenever I accept a responsibility I always rise promptly to the emergency. In the present instance it requires careful consideration. Now, if you will excuse me I will take my morning constitutional.”

Huntington was not sorry to have a few moments of solitary contemplation. Throwing away a half-smoked cigar, he drew his pipe from his pocket and filled it with his favorite mixture—unchanged since he first became acquainted with it at college. A cigarette represented to Huntington the casual inconsequence of youth, a cigar the aristocracy of smoking, a pipe that comfortable companionship which encourages relaxation and introspective thought. With the first whiff he pulled his hat down over his face, settled deep in his chair, and began to run over the events of the past few days. Huntington's mind was methodical if not always orderly, and his account of stock, when finally classified under the head of “responsibilities,” summed up about as follows:

     Responsibility 1: To keep peace with Connie, and yet
     persuade him against or frighten him out of his present
     assinine intentions.

     Responsibility 2: To pull Hamlen out of the solitary life
     which he had affected, and to force him to assume that
     position in the world to which he rightly belonged.

     Responsibility 3: To demonstrate to Mrs. Thatcher that her
     unmotherly idea of making restitution to Hamlen by throwing
     her daughter at his head was the product of an overwrought
     sentimentality rather than a rational suggestion.

     Responsibility 4: To become sufficiently intimate with
     Merry, the direct or indirect occasion of the entire
     complication, to be able to judge as to the probable outcome
     of all the other responsibilities.

The sum total of his obligations appalled him, and he found himself proceeding in a mental circle, making no progress beyond the recapitulation. He was not displeased, therefore, when he found himself interrupted in his reveries by a bell-boy who stood before him, holding out a tray containing a telegram. He took it mechanically, wondering who had located him in this island retreat. Opening the yellow envelope he read the following message, sent by wireless from the “Arcadian”:

     “That Cosden person has slipped it over on me this time,
     but I depend on you to watch out for my interests with
     Merry. She is the one best bet. Don't let that antique
     vintage of 1875 annoy her with his attentions. I know I can
     trust you. Please cable money to me in New York care of
     Hotel Biltmore to pay for this message and other expenses to
     Cambridge.

  “BILLY.”

Huntington groaned aloud as he twisted uncomfortably in his chair. “Another responsibility to add to the others!” he cried, “and I believed bachelor's life one of freedom and ease! If ever I get out of this mess I'll bury myself in some monastery, and let its cold grey walls protect me against the matrimonial madness of the world!”

XI

       * * * * *

By a curious coincidence Edith Stevens' “morning constitutional” took her in the direction of the “Hamilton,” and by another coincidence, equally curious, she met Thatcher, Cosden, and her brother as they emerged from the hotel after their conference with Duncan. Cosden was still in an elated mental condition as a result of the fact that he had again placed himself within the control of his master passion. Even though Thatcher spoke of the enterprise as “small,” it was an opening wedge, and Cosden knew how to make the most of an opening.

The visit to Bermuda had already taught him that he was engaging in a game of which he did not know even the first rudiments. It had seemed easy enough to him when he first undertook it, but the experience of these few days had undeceived him. When in the past he had wanted anything, he simply played the game until he won out; now he saw that in spite of his claim that marriage firmly rested upon basic business principles, there was a certain hiatus which could not be filled in by the education derived from every-day business routine in a counting-room. He had met no discouragements as yet, but he was making no beginning, and that of course was retrogression.

As he saw Miss Stevens approaching Cosden was seized with one of those inspirations which had made his business career so signal a success. It was stupid of him not to have thought of it before! Whenever he wanted advice upon factory management he employed the best expert he could secure; now that he required specialized service in the matter of approaching Miss Thatcher upon the delicate subject he had in mind, why should he not employ the same method? Every woman was by nature a specialist in affairs of this kind, and from what he had already seen of Miss Stevens he believed he could scarcely have selected one better fitted to act in the capacity suggested.

It was easy enough to manoeuver matters so that he should walk back with her to the “Princess,” especially as she seemed unconsciously to fall in with his plans by addressing her greeting particularly to him. Cosden's response was so cordial and his pleasure in seeing her so sincere that Edith was thoroughly mystified. Previously he had seemed preoccupied, and appeared to endure her companionship rather than seek it; now he threw aside his indifference and met her as a comrade. An instant understanding flashed across her mind: Huntington had hinted that his friend had suddenly developed interesting tendencies, and had said plainly that the objective was either Merry Thatcher or herself. Could it be that—well, perhaps it would not be necessary to use force after all! Then, as a result of that curious feminine paradox, her next thought was contradictory: “If he is really interested in me then I shall lose interest in him.” Still, the game was worth playing out.

They turned in at the little shaded lane which offers a short cut to the hotel, but instead of entering the hallway Cosden stopped and indicated the steps leading down to the tennis-courts.

“Would you mind having a very personal conversation with me down there?” he asked with so much significance in his voice that Edith became almost agitated.

“I'd love to sit down for a moment,” she assented. “I've been walking so long that I could take that bench in my arms and hug it.”

“I'm in a quandary,” Cosden began without preliminaries as soon as Edith had adjusted herself where she would appear to best advantage. “I have an idea that you can help me out.”

“First aid to the wounded is right in my line,” Edith assured him helpfully.

Even with the inspiration which expectancy on the part of an audience is always supposed to give a speaker, Cosden's fluency became somewhat modified when he actually touched upon his main topic.

“I'm a peculiar sort of man, I've no doubt—”

“I wouldn't give a snap of my finger for a man who didn't possess individuality,” she interrupted emphatically.

“Well, perhaps it is more than individuality. Men seem to understand me all right, but I've never had a sister, and I've been too tied down by my business to cultivate women. I'm a man's man—I suppose that about expresses it.”

“That's a good recommendation; look at my brother,—he's a lady's man. Would you change individualities with Ricky?”

“Perhaps not,” Cosden said guardedly; “still in this matter your brother could probably give me a pointer or two.—Hang it all! when I talk to a man I don't have any difficulty in making myself understood, but here I am, floundering round with you like a school-boy!”

“Just imagine for the moment that I am a man and that you are talking to me about some one else—”

“That's it exactly; I knew you would understand. I thought Monty would help me out, but he absolutely refuses to take me seriously. The truth of the matter is that I've decided to get married.”

Even with the preparation given her by Huntington's remarks Cosden's statement came with an abruptness which surprised Edith into a becoming flutter. Her eyes fell for the moment and she could feel a flush come into her face. Knowing how some men admire the combination of blue eyes and rosy cheeks she hastened to look up, but was disappointed to find her companion's gaze resting upon the distant horizon.

“You have decided?” she asked archly; “where does the girl come in?”

“Oh, she'll come in all right at the finish, I've no doubt,” Cosden replied. “I'm taking you at your word, and I'm talking to you just as I would to a man. I want you to tell me what I ought to do to make sure that nothing goes wrong. I've always got what I've gone after, and it would break me all up to come a cropper just because I hadn't handled the matter right.”

“Have you given the prospective bride any suggestion of your intentions?” Edith inquired, her eyes again drooping.

“Not a word. That's not my way. I always plan things out to the finish, and then it's plain sailing to the end.”

“Have you reason to think she cares for you?”

“She has no more idea that I think of marrying anybody than you had before I began to tell you; but I don't see why she should have any special objection to me. The whole point is, I'm somewhat older than she, and I'm not sure that I speak the same language.”

Edith's mind executed some lightning mathematical calculations, and she wondered if he were older than he looked.

“There is not too much difference, I am sure.”

“Just eighteen years,” Cosden announced with finality.

The color left Edith's face, and then it returned with greater strength. Her surprise showed only in her snapping eyes, for she held herself well in hand; but her mind was working fast. She was thankful enough that he had been so wrapped up in himself that he was oblivious to her mistake.

“It would serve him right if I did marry him, to pay him back for this,” was what her eyes said, but the words she spoke fitted well enough into Cosden's understanding.

“Well, of course, eighteen years is a good deal—”

“Just the proper handicap.” Cosden repeated the phrase he had used in his discussion with Huntington. “Women grow old faster than men.”

Edith bit her lip to hold back the caustic reply which was almost spoken. He certainly was intent upon his purpose, but that did not excuse his lack of gallantry. His friend could give him points on that! The responsibility she had told Huntington she would assume became a real one!

“Perhaps,” she seemed to assent; “but of course it makes a difference who the girl is. If I knew her—”

“You know her all right; it's Merry Thatcher.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, as if the identity was a complete surprise. “Yes, you would have to plan your campaign pretty carefully with Merry. She is a girl with definite ideas of her own, and she might not be influenced by the fact that you always get what you go after.”

Cosden looked at her suspiciously.

“Yes; I think I could help you,” she added quickly.

“I'd be mighty grateful if you would,” Cosden said with obvious relief.

“Now, let me see—” Edith proceeded carefully, but the way was clearing before her. “I think you will need to take quite a course of training,” she laughed. “Are you prepared to do that?”

“When I place myself in my doctor's hands I usually take his medicines.”

“All right; then we'll start in at once. I must ask you a lot of questions. Are you fond of athletics?”

“Next to my business, it's my longest suit.”

“There is the first point of common interest. You are making a good start.—Are you fond of reading?

“I like a good detective story.”

“How about Stevenson and Ibsen and Lafcadio Hearn?”

“Not in mine, except 'Treasure Island' and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'”

Edith pursed her lips. “Not so good on the second test, Mr. Cosden. How about opera?”

“My favorites are 'Lohengrin' and the 'Merry Widow.'”

“Horrors! That you must keep sacredly hidden from the dear girl. I've known her to go to the opera eight times in one week, and sigh for more. Of course you adore orchestral music?”

“You'll have to score zeros against me on music, but perhaps I can come back strong in some other branches.”

She held up a finger chidingly. “You from Boston, and don't rave over your Symphony Orchestra! That is a real blow! I supposed every one in Boston went to the Symphony concerts just for the prestige, even though he couldn't tell whether the orchestra was playing or only tuning up.”

“You see I'm not trying to sail under false colors.”

“Well, now I come to the supreme test of all: do you dance?”

Cosden threw up his hands in real despair. “You are making me look ridiculous,” he said. “I knew the old dances, but I've never put myself up against the new ones. I suppose I could learn.”

“Well, well, well!” ejaculated the fair inquisitor. “All I can say is that you showed real business judgment in coming to me first. Merry would have made short work of you; she's crazy about dancing. Oh, don't look so serious; the case may not be so hopeless as it seems.”

“I don't see how it could be much worse.” Cosden was genuinely chagrined.

“It isn't every one who finds a fairy godmother waiting for him when he comes out of his chrysalis, Mr. Cosden,” Edith explained. “She will help young Lochinvar to throw aside his antiquity and come down to date. In two weeks' time you'll feel so spritely that Mr. Huntington and his friends of equal age will bore you,—all provided that you follow your instructor's precepts.”

Cosden caught the contagion of her optimism. “It's mighty good of you, Miss Stevens. I have no right to ask so much of a comparative stranger.”

“Don't worry a bit,” Edith reassured him. “You are to start right in and practise on me. I'll teach you the new steps, and coach you in all that's needful. You may lose your breath and a few friends, but I'll guarantee to show you how to win a wife. Now you may begin your education by leading me in to luncheon.”

XII

       * * * * *

Out of the helpless floundering in the lap of his “responsibilities” a realization came to Huntington that immediate action of some sort was imperative to prevent him from breaking his most zealously observed commandment, “Thou shalt not worry.” His antipathy to this favorite pastime was not due to an acceptance of the Japanese theory that worry produces poison in the human system, but rather to a willingness on his part to let others do what he himself found distasteful. It was an article of faith with him to avoid the unpleasant. During luncheon Cosden was wrapped in his own thoughts, which gave final opportunity for this realization to crystallize into a conclusion that the moment was at hand to demonstrate his good intentions to Mrs. Thatcher, and to become better acquainted with her daughter,—all in a single operation.

“If my leaving the table won't disturb your reflections—” he began.

Cosden looked up quickly and smiled. “I didn't intend to be such poor company, Monty,” he apologized. “The fact is, I have a good deal on my mind. Of course you can't understand what that means; all you have to do is to eat three meals a day, stand still while Dixon dolls you up at stated intervals and go to sleep at night after he tucks you away in your little trundle-bed.”

There was an indulgent expression in Huntington's eye as he listened. “Yes,” he acquiesced; “it is always difficult for any one to see the other fellow's viewpoint. But don't apologize; I think I like you better when you're quiet.—Now, if you don't mind, I'll have a word with Mrs. Thatcher.”

He strolled leisurely to the table where the Thatcher party sat.

“I am going over to Mr. Hamlen's villa this afternoon,” he announced; “I wonder if Miss Merry would care to go with me.”

“I'd love to,” the girl replied promptly, with evident eagerness in her voice. “Especially if you are going to talk with him as you did the other evening,” she added.

“You're taking that Hamlen chap rather seriously, aren't you?” Stevens volunteered.

“He's entitled to it,” Huntington said with a decision which Stevens took to be a rebuff, and subsided.

Mrs. Thatcher was quick to understand that Huntington was acting in response to her suggestion of the night before, and her face showed her appreciation.

“I have wanted Merry to see those wonderful grounds,” she exclaimed; “this is just the time to do it.”

“When does our Society go into executive session?” asked Edith, with a significant smile; “my committee wishes to report progress.”

“Splendid!” Huntington responded. “The notices shall be sent out at once.” Then he turned again to Merry. “You'll go?” he asked.

“Of course I will; I'll be ready whenever you say.”

“I'll telephone Hamlen and see what time he would prefer to have us come.”

       * * * * *

“Shall we walk?” she asked him, as they met at the appointed hour on the piazza of the hotel.

“It's over two miles,” he suggested doubtfully. The idea of walking anywhere when a conveyance was within reach never occurred to Huntington naturally.

“I don't mind the distance at all unless you do,” she replied; “I always walk when I can, and the afternoon is delightful.”

As Huntington regarded his vivacious companion he was conscious of another shock similar to those he had experienced when he first saw her and her mother the evening of his arrival. She had discarded the unconventional costume of the morning, exchanging it for an afternoon gown of softest texture, so girlish, yet to the practised eye revealing in every detail the artist's creation,—arraying herself with such special care that her escort could not fail to understand her appreciation of his attention. It was Marian Seymour once more whose hand he held in his as he assisted the girl down the long steps, and his mind leaped back again over the five and twenty years. But what a difference at his end of the picture! She was the same, but he—well, the years had dealt kindly with him he must admit, but forty-five at best must pay homage to twenty! Her youthful figure was disguised but not hidden by the quaint gown of white Georgette crepe and lace, relieved from its monotone by a soft, moon-blue satin girdle, embroidered with roses and leaves in pastel shades. The wide-brimmed hat of the same crepe, its crown of blue satin banded with flowers, the dainty parasol, and the white kid colonials completed a becoming costume. Huntington concluded that his slipper, so carefully preserved at home, was as antique a souvenir as himself! “Shall we walk?” she asked; he would have liked nothing better than to parade up and down forever before every one he knew with this splendid young creature beside him, exhaling all that glowing health and youth could add to the natural charms which were her birthright! Particularly was he unable to resist giving Cosden a look of triumph as they passed by him at the steps.

“Room for one more in your party?” Cosden asked, rising impulsively.

“Full house, Connie,” was the uncompromising response. “We're off on a missionary trip, and you wouldn't be interested.”

To Merry herself this was an adventure as pleasing as it was unusual. Huntington had made a deep impression upon her on that one occasion to which she so often referred. In her quiet, tense way the girl was a hero-worshiper, and in that single moment Huntington had qualified for the hero's crown. That he should have selected her as his companion for this afternoon was enough to set her cheeks aglow and to make her eyes sparkle with girlish anticipation.

“I'm afraid my nephew Billy has been imposing on your good-nature, these days,” he began.

“Billy?” she laughed. “Not a bit of it! Billy is the best fun ever. I never saw such an irrepressible boy; he's just like a big St. Bernard pup!”

Huntington decided to remember this for later use in time of need.

“I suppose we old-stagers forget how youthful we were at his age, but sometimes it seems to me as if Billy would never grow up.”

“Oh, he's all right, Mr. Huntington,” Merry reassured him. “My brother Phil is older, but every now and then he breaks out just the same. I think they're lots of fun. It's only when they become serious that I feel worried about them.”

“Billy isn't often guilty of that,” was Huntington's comment. “When he and I are alone I don't mind having him bubble over. It keeps me young, so I rather like it; but down here it seemed as if he was getting in every one's way,—just like a puppy, as you say. Mr. Cosden—”

“I'm afraid Mr. Cosden doesn't remember his own boyhood as well as you remember yours,” Merry interrupted. “How much more he would enjoy himself if he had a bump of humor, wouldn't he?”

“Connie? Why, I never noticed that he lacked humor. Of course Connie is very intense; he goes at his business as if it were the only thing in life, and when it comes to play it's the same way. Now that you speak about it, I don't know that I have noticed much sense of humor in him. Perhaps that's why we pull together so well.”

“I'm glad you asked me to go with you this afternoon,” Merry continued. “Mother has told me something about Mr. Hamlen, and I feel terribly sorry for him. He was so miserably unhappy the other evening. She says he has one of the most wonderful places she ever saw.”

“He has; but I believe you will be even more interested in studying the man than his frame. The morning I spent with him stands out as an event in my life. You heard us discussing college the other evening; well, Hamlen is the product of the one great fault in the life at Harvard when we were there.”

“For Phil's sake, I hope all the faults are overcome by now.”

Huntington smiled. His face was one which smiled easily, adding to the charm of his low, well-modulated voice.

“Most of the faults have been eradicated,” he replied, “but weaknesses will always exist. Perhaps I should have called this a weakness. To-day it is partially remedied, and I believe that the new freshman dormitories are going to be a large insurance clause against it.”

“I don't believe I understand—”

“Nor can you until I cease speaking in enigmas,” laughed Huntington. “I once went to a lecture William James gave on Pragmatism, and all I took away as a reward for my hour of careful listening was that 'nothing is the only resultant of the one thing which isn't.' I upbraided him for it when next we met, and he explained that the prerogative of a philosopher is that he can retreat behind meaningless expressions and still be considered wise. I am no philosopher, so it is cowardly of me to try to take similar advantage of you. Hamlen is a college-made recluse, and there is no denying the fact that at Harvard there has been less effort made by the students to find out the personal characteristics of their classmates than at any of the other colleges. Each fellow has had to show them forth himself, and it had to be done his freshman year. If he held back, as Hamlen did, they have let him stay in his shell; then he concluded they didn't like him.”

“But a boy can't advertise his characteristics—”

“No; but he can manifest them in legitimate ways. Why, my freshman year there was a little fellow in the Class who didn't weigh a hundred pounds, and had no more strength than a cat; but he went in for crew, football, baseball, track athletics, debating,—and everything else you could imagine. He was no good in any of them, and didn't come within a mile of making any team. We all made fun of him and we all loved him for his grit. He didn't have to advertise; we knew him through and through. That is the kind of boy that makes good at Harvard.”

“Some boys wouldn't realize the importance of this until too late, with no one to tell them, would they?”

“That is the whole point, Miss Merry, and it hasn't taken you as long to see it as it has taken the college authorities. When Hamlen and I were there no one made any effort to shake us up together. I had my own small circle of friends, and we cared precious little for any one outside of it. If I had known Hamlen then as I have come to know him here in less than a week, I should have insisted on his being one of that little circle; but I didn't know him at all. I am watching this segregation of the freshmen with great interest. It seems as if they must get to know each other better now; but if this experiment doesn't solve the problem then the authorities must keep on trying until they find one that does.”

They walked on in silence for several moments. Huntington was deeply in earnest, and Merry eager to hear every word. Her father, not being a college man, had always been more or less intolerant of the claims made by college graduates, so her ideas had naturally been colored by his views. Her brother was sent to Harvard because his mother wished it, not because Thatcher had changed his opinions, and Merry's new views, as gained by her brother's life there, had not given her any deeper understanding. What Huntington said to Hamlen supplied her with another viewpoint, and she was keenly interested in this continuation of the same subject.

“Hamlen is a man cowed and embittered by his experiences,” Huntington said, speaking again. “Every time he has gone out into the world it has been head foremost, without looking. He has butted against stone wall after stone wall when he could have seen the opening had he used his eyes. Each time he has been bruised he has fancied that the world struck him, when in reality the wound was self-inflicted.”

“Has he no friends—no hobby which can take him out of himself?”

“He believes himself to be friendless, but he has a hobby; I discovered it when I was at his villa yesterday. Do you happen by any chance to know anything of the artistic side of bookmaking?”

“I took some lessons from Cobden-Sanderson while we were in London two winters ago, but I haven't done much with what I learned.”

“Did you really?” Huntington stopped short and looked at her in genuine surprise. “That is a curious coincidence! I hadn't the remotest idea, when I asked the question, that you knew there was anything in a book except the story. Well, that does simplify matters! Hamlen has a hand-press and a miniature bindery, and has made some really exquisite volumes. It is his one remaining human trait. I've known the books for years, but no one could find out who made them. Well, well! I promise that you shall see Hamlen this afternoon in a mood quite different from the one you saw him in the other night; you shall know the man as I know him, and better than he knows himself!”

       * * * * *

Huntington noticed a new light in Hamlen's eyes as he greeted them at the villa. The man was more reserved in the presence of a third person, but Huntington was relieved to find that the fact of Merry's coming did not throw his host back into that restrained attitude which he manifested when first they met.

“I have brought you another congenial soul,” Huntington explained.

“Can there be such—for me?” Hamlen demanded, but his guest continued as if he had not heard.

“Quite accidentally I find that Miss Merry has been a pupil of Cobden-Sanderson's, and I want her to see what you have done in this miniature island press of yours.”

“I should be so interested,” Merry exclaimed eagerly.

“How can it interest any one but me?” Hamlen asked incredulously. “I am parading my inmost self in public, and it seems indecent.”

“I should not wish to intrude—” the girl began but Hamlen held up a deprecating hand, and the expression on his face refuted the apparent lack of courtesy.

“I am sure you won't misunderstand, Miss Thatcher, being, as Mr. Huntington says, a congenial soul. It is I who am apologizing. To have any one show interest in what I do is a new experience, and I hesitate for fear I may be indelicate. And yet I want to show you what I've done!”

“Of course I understand,” Merry replied cordially; “I'm proud to be among the first to see your work.”

“Before we go indoors, may I not take you around the grounds?” he turned to Huntington. “Perhaps you are in the mood for it to-day?”

“By all means,” his guest responded. “It will give us exactly the right atmosphere for what is to follow.”

Huntington rejoiced to see Hamlen's attitude. For an hour they wandered from one point to another, Merry in a state of ecstasy from the superb beauty of it all, Hamlen supremely happy in this sympathetic companionship of which he knew so little, and Huntington contentedly watching the life-drama enacting before his eyes. On the stage such a sudden change from tragedy to comedy would have been considered crude, for who could write lines of such delicacy as to portray the yearning of a human soul, or what actors are there so great that they could mimic the birth of hope? “God is the master-dramatist, after all,” Huntington murmured to himself as he studied the changes which made the tortured derelict of a few days before into the contained and self-respecting host.

They returned to the house, and Hamlen took them to his press and bindery. Huntington purposely kept in the background, asking a question now and then, adding a word only where it was necessary, and giving his host the opportunity of explaining the finer points of the work to the responsive and comprehending mind of the girl. Little by little he could see the real Hamlen emerge from his manufactured self under the influences around him.

But his interest was not wholly centered in Hamlen. Until to-day Huntington had observed Merry only in her relation to others; now he felt a personal pride in the way she carried herself, in her quick understanding, her sympathetic responsiveness. He felt unconsciously for these brief moments a pleasurable sense of possession which added to his enjoyment.

“Now take us to your library,” he said to Hamlen at length. “You told me that you had there some examples of the old master-printers at which you had scarcely looked. I want to see them; perhaps they may show us the influences which unconsciously affected your work.”

“Most of them belonged to my father,” Hamlen explained, as he opened the door for his guests to pass through into the larger room.

“He was a collector, then?”

“In a small way. As I look back, he must have known a good deal about old books; but I had no interest then, so they made little impression.”

Huntington glanced around at the shelves critically.

“Classics, classics, classics!” he cried. “Good heavens, man, do you mean to tell me that you haven't any modern books at all?”

Hamlen flushed. “There are many of these which I don't know well yet,” was his reply. “Until then why should I accept counterfeits?”

Huntington had already found the shelf which held the incunabula and the later examples of printing.

“Jenson, Aldus—ah, here is the 'Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,' and a splendid copy! That is the only illustrated volume Aldus ever issued,” he explained to Merry as he turned the pages. “Here is where you found that half-diamond formation of the type,” he added, speaking to Hamlen, and pointing to the printed page.

Hamlen bent forward. “I didn't even remember that it had ever been used,” he said. “I simply felt the necessity of filling out my page.”

“So did Aldus,” Huntington answered significantly. “Here is one of Etienne's Greek books. Splendid work, isn't it? And yet, after giving France the crown of typographical supremacy which Italy had lost, he had to flee for his life because he wouldn't let his books be censored!”

“My father had a fine copy of Plantin's 'Polyglot Bible.'“ Hamlen drew one of the massive volumes from the shelf.

“Yes,” Huntington replied, glancing critically at it and then at several of the other books; “your father must have known his subject well, for these examples follow the supremacy of printing from Italy down to modern times. See, starting with Aldus, you have one of Etienne's, then one of Plantin's, representing the period when Belgium snatched the prestige from France, then here is a 'Terence' of Elzevir's, printed when Holland was supreme; then Baskerville's 'Vergil,' which gave England the crown in the eighteenth century—”

“Where does Caxton come in?” Merry asked.

“He belongs to the period of Aldus, but his work was distinctly inferior to that of his Italian rival.—I say, Hamlen, where did your father go, after Baskerville?”

Huntington, continuing his examination of the volumes, answered his own question. “Here it is,—a beautiful example of Didot's 'Racine,' printed in that type which he and Bodoni cut together. Splendid judgment your father showed! This explains everything: you come naturally by your genius. What you have called instinct is really inheritance. Now the next; what is it?” Huntington became impatient in his eagerness.

“That is as late as my father's collection went.”

“But surely you have a Kelmscott 'Chaucer'?”

“Yes; I bought one when I was in England.”

“Put it up here just after the 'Racine.' There you are: except for Gutenberg's 'Mazzarine Bible,' which you may be excused for not possessing because of its rarity, you have a complete set representing the best printing which has been done in each epoch.”

“You see how little I realized it,” Hamlen apologized.

“You expressed your realization in the most tangible way possible, my dear fellow! You produced examples which are worthy to stand on the same shelf with those masterpieces. We won't put any living printer's work there yet, until Time has placed its value upon it, but I'll wager that when the next selection is made the books of Philip Hamlen will receive consideration.”

“I wish I might believe that,” Hamlen said with deep feeling; “it would mean everything to me.”

“You must believe it. When you come to Boston, and find out how other collectors regard your work, you'll think my praise is tame. Until then, believe what I tell you, and take out of it the gratification which belongs to you.—I want you to go back to Boston with me, Hamlen, and pay me a visit. Will you do it?”

The change in subject was so abrupt that it took his host entirely unawares.

“Do you mean that, Huntington?” he asked.

“Of course I mean it. In fact, I insist upon it. I want to take you home to exhibit to my jealous friends as my own discovery.—Then it's all agreed.”

“I couldn't leave here,” Hamlen said soberly.

“I'll wait for you,” Huntington replied. “I'm really in no hurry at all.”

Hamlen laughed, and it was the first time Huntington had seen his reserve break down. He could not help contrasting it with the burst of emotion which had preceded his departure only the day before.

“You are a hard man to resist,” Hamlen said lightly; “but that is something for the future. Let me have it to look forward to.”

“Well, I haven't left Bermuda yet, and I don't want to go without you.—Now, Miss Merry, I must get you safely back to the hotel. Do you feel equal to another walk?”

“I'm eager for it,” she replied.

At the door Hamlen managed to have a word alone with Huntington.

“You knew her mother when she was a girl, you said?”

“Yes;—slightly,” was the guarded reply.

“She was wonderful!” he exclaimed with much feeling. Then he added, “The daughter is very like her, don't you think?”

XIII

       * * * * *

Hamlen's remark remained in Huntington's mind long after it was spoken. He himself had been impressed by Merry's resemblance to her mother as they set out on their afternoon's pilgrimage; yet his reply to Hamlen's question was a prompt denial. Huntington's mind centered itself upon this paradox as they walked down the long driveway, and he wondered why he had impulsively yet deliberately given an impression so at variance with what he knew to be the facts. Seeking for self-justification, he turned his head slightly so that he might inspect his companion more closely without attracting her attention. After all, he satisfied himself, the resemblance was occasioned more by certain intangible characteristics than by any similarity of features. Marian Seymour possessed a beauty of more startling type than her daughter; indeed, until that afternoon Huntington had thought of Merry as an attractive rather than a beautiful girl. Now that the subject forced itself upon him he realized she was both, and that the type proved so satisfying that he had been content to enjoy it without the temptation of analysis.

Huntington's further acquaintance with the daughter emphasized his disapproval of her mother's idea regarding her possible marriage to Hamlen, and this led him to make a comparison between Marian Seymour as she was to-day and the idealization with which he had been so long familiar. Her beauty still remained, her fascination was perhaps greater since experience had given substance to her girlish vivacity and charm, and her energy was such that she unconsciously dominated every situation of which she was a factor. She was evidently devoted to her husband and to her children, but her force of personality dominated them as it did all others with whom she came in contact. Huntington had rather admired this trait in a woman, but now it clashed with his own judgment. He gave her credit for believing that she would be acting in her daughter's interest, but her suggestion did shock him, for it seemed to show a lack of sympathetic understanding. The idea of Merry married to Philip Hamlen! The man was all right, in his way, of course. Eventually he might become less of the recluse and more nearly human; but obviously he was too old and too settled in his eccentricities to be inflicted on any woman, and least of all on a girl like this.

“But still, confound him!” Huntington said to himself, “he came out of his chrysalis far enough to take notice!”

Then his thoughts jumped from Hamlen to Cosden. Connie was more alive than Hamlen could ever be expected to become, but the same arguments applied to him in greater or less degree. It was easy enough to understand what had attracted him, for Connie always instinctively sensed in anything the really vital assets. Now that Huntington was becoming better acquainted with Merry he resented more and more the idea of this coldly-calculated courtship, and he wondered why this characteristic of Cosden's had not more often offended him in the past.

From this point it was an easy shift to Billy,—dear, lovable, spoiled, heedless Billy! Of course he loved Merry, just as he had always loved every beautiful object he had ever seen; and, naturally enough, he wanted this beautiful object just as he had wanted hundreds of others during his brief but meteoric career. And still of course, he looked to his Uncle Monty to gratify his whim in this as in all other cases! It was going to the other extreme: Billy was as much too young and irresponsible as the others were too old and unsuitable. This much Huntington was able to settle definitely in his mind, and his arrival at a conclusion brought with it a sense of relief.

Huntington suddenly became aware that his introspection had occupied more time than courtesy permitted, but Merry, absorbed in her own thoughts, had not noticed his abstraction. He tried to relieve the tension.

“'Silence is golden, speech is silvern,'“ he quoted. “What do you say to our adopting a silver standard?”

Merry's laugh showed that the interruption was welcome. “You always say the least expected thing, Mr. Huntington!” she exclaimed. “My mind was a thousand miles from here.”

“A thousand miles,” Huntington repeated reflectively. “I'm fairly good in geography, but I'm afraid I'll have to ask you the direction before I locate the spot.”

“Straight up,” she responded, half entering into his mood, half returning to her serious vein,—“straight in that kingdom where desire to do the right and wise thing is not hampered by a lack of knowledge.”

“You would like to help Hamlen?”

“Indeed I would!”

What a serious face it was! Huntington studied it with satisfaction yet with twinges of conscience.

“I should not burden you with my problem,” he said penitently. “Why should youth be made to carry loads which belong to older shoulders?”

“Please—” the girl protested eagerly. “I want you to do it. I appreciate your confidence so much that I am eager to be of some real service.”

“You like—responsibilities?” he queried.

“It isn't living to be without them, is it? They seem to come of their own accord to men: a woman usually has to work hard to find any that are worth while.”

“Some women do,” Huntington admitted; “others have more than their share without deserving them. Burdens usually seek and find the willing shoulders.”

“Of course; but I mean the women who have been brought up as I have been. I've always had everything I wanted, and my parents have protected me against everything. They even protest when I rebel against my own uselessness by going into settlement work, and in other small ways try to express my individuality.”

“Such as the course in bookbinding with Cobden-Sanderson?”

Merry smiled consciously. “That was such a poor attempt, because I had no ability. My squares were uneven, my backs were wrinkled, and it was really such sloppy work.”

“Granting that what you say is true, yet the experience gained in doing it enabled you to understand Hamlen to-day far better than if you had never attempted it. That is the main point, isn't it?”

“I suppose nothing we do is ever wholly lost,” she admitted. “I did understand Mr. Hamlen, but that understanding has brought me no nearer to the point where I can help him.”

“You helped him to-day more than any one has ever done except myself.—You see how frankly I accept first glory.”

“I helped him?” Merry protested. “Why, I only listened and allowed myself to be entertained.”

“Yes; but there is a difference in the way one does even that. He hesitated to show you his work and yet he wanted to show it to you. That was the struggle between the habit of years to restrain his real feeling and the desire which your sympathetic personality created in him. And the desire won out. Each time the habit is broken its power over him becomes weaker. Now do you see the value of the service you rendered him?”

“It is wonderful how clearly you analyze things!” the girl exclaimed admiringly. “All I could see was depressing, but you found encouragement in everything.”

“Surely those beautiful books encouraged you?”

“Yes; but they emphasized the awful pity of the deliberate repression of his full ability.”

“Still; the fact that the demand for expression was as stronger than the will to repress it shows the character beneath.”

“Then not to express one's individuality shows a lack of character?” Merry inquired soberly.

“I think I sense some personal application,” Huntington answered guardedly. “I must know more before I utter further words of wisdom.”

The girl looked up into his face inquiringly, and then laughed consciously. “I am really becoming frightened by your power to understand,” she said, only half jokingly. “I do mean to make a personal application. I want to express myself individually, but, being a woman, I cannot find the opportunity. If I really had character I'm sure that I should force the opportunity.”

Huntington realized that in hesitating to answer her question he had been wiser than he knew. The seriousness which appeared from time to time on the girl's face, then, was not a passing mood, but rather the index of warring emotions. An unguarded word at this moment might do much injury to a nature which was striving to find itself.

“Do you know yet what form you wish your individuality to take?” he asked cautiously.

“Not exactly,” was the frank response. “What I object to, is that a girl isn't allowed to become interested in anything that is worth while. She is given her education and 'brought out,' after which, whether she likes it or not, she seems to be placed in a position of waiting for some man to come along to marry her. Why can't she be allowed to do something, just as a boy is, until she finds out whether she wants to marry or not?”

“That would be a fatal error!” Huntington explained with mock gravity, hoping to lighten the serious turn the conversation had taken. “If any such idea gained ground marriage would become the exception rather than the rule. How many girls do you think would ever marry if they were permitted to find any other real interest in life?”

“But I'm serious, Mr. Huntington,” Merry protested, showing that she felt hurt by his flippancy. “I couldn't bear to be a nonentity all my days. Think of realizing one's own ambitions only by marrying a man who could fulfil them! I could not be happy unless I contributed my share to the real life which we jointly lived.”

“You could do it,” Huntington said with conviction, “but not every woman could.—See that old man bowing to us. Suppose we go and speak with him. Do you mind?”

“Every one is so courteous here,” she exclaimed as they crossed the narrow road. “I never pass one of the natives without receiving a greeting of some kind, and the children are forever shyly forcing flowers or fruit upon me. It makes one love the place.”

The old man was overjoyed to have attracted attention. He hobbled forward with difficulty as they approached, and bowed as low as his infirmities would permit.

“You are welcome to Bermuda,” he said with a cracked, high-pitched voice. “We are pleased to have strangers visit us.”

“Your visitors remain strangers but a little while,” Huntington answered him, “because of your hospitality.”

“Won't you come in and sit down?” the old man urged.

“Not to-day, thank you; but if we should not be intruding it would be a pleasure to return some other time.”

“You could not intrude, sir,” he insisted; “for I am only waiting.”

“Waiting?” Huntington questioned.

“Yes; waiting for that,” and he pointed to a tall cedar growing inside the yard, beside which was the stump of another tree.

“He wants to tell us something,” Merry whispered.

“They were planted there sixty years ago,” the old man continued, “the two of them. They were little slips, stuck in our wedding-cake as is our custom here, when my wife and I were married. We put them in the ground, for everything takes root in this soil, and they grew side by side for fifty years. Then that one fell”—pointing to the stump,—“and the next day my wife was taken sick and died. We made her coffin from the cedar wood of that tree, sir. Now I'm waiting for the other one to fall. That was ten years ago now, so it won't be long.”

“Isn't that a beautiful idea?” Merry exclaimed, touched by the unconscious pathos of the old man's words. “We would like to come back and have you tell us about your wife.”

“She was a sweet, young girl like yourself when I married her,” he replied. “We were both born here and never left the island. But the maps aren't fair to us; we're not so small”—he straightened and waved his arm—“we're not so small, as you can see.”

They left him happy over the unusual break in his monotony, and continued their walk to the hotel.

“Here is the other side to the picture,” Huntington remarked. “This old man and his wife, and hundreds of others no doubt, live their lives out here happy and contented with their nineteen square miles of world, yet you and I are pitying Hamlen because of his self-exile under circumstances infinitely more acceptable!”

“It is a question of what one has within, isn't it?” Merry asked, “that something which keeps one from being satisfied with anything less than the most and the best that life can give him and he can give to life.”

Huntington looked at her with undisguised admiration. “You couldn't have stated it better if you had taken all the college courses in the world,” he said. “You're a wonderful little girl, Miss Merry, and if you don't let your heart play pranks with that well-balanced head of yours you will certainly achieve your great ambition.”

They were near the hotel now, and the conversation had strayed so far from the original subject that the girl did not follow him.

“My great ambition?” she asked. “And that is—”

“I won't tell you until we're up the steps.”

“Well?” she demanded archly, as at length they stood on the piazza.

“You will marry a man who will let you contribute your share to the real life which you will jointly live.”

The laughing response which he had looked for was not spoken, but to his amazement Merry turned from him without a word and disappeared within the hallway.

XIV

       * * * * *

Thatcher and Cosden chartered one of the hotel carriages the next morning and started on a tour of inspection over the route plotted out by Duncan for the proposed trolley-line. After passing beyond the town limits, and with the long stretch of superb coral road ahead of them, Thatcher turned to his companion.

“Why can't we get together on the Consolidated Machinery?” he asked pointedly.

“The public demands that your nefarious trust be compelled to recognize its rights,” Cosden replied smiling.

“Good!” Thatcher smiled in response. “Now that you have that piffle off your chest, please go on.”

“This time we have the goods,” Cosden added significantly.

“If you are so sure of it, why don't you show them to us? Then we can tell whether it's a real hold-up or merely an attempt.”

“That's just the point, and the sooner your crowd realizes it the less time you will waste. This is not a hold-up game; we have the goods, and we can make a better thing by operating than by selling out.”

“You have courage to buck up against an organization as strong as ours.”

“Not only courage but capital enough to see us through.”

The antiquated stage-coach, plying between St. George's and Hamilton, lumbered past them. Cosden smiled as he turned to his companion.

“There's a perfect illustration of the situation,” he said. “Your machines belong to the same vintage as that old coach, yet by maintaining a monopoly, as you have been able to do until now, you have succeeded in forcing manufacturers to employ antique methods, and to pay you a whacking big royalty for the privilege of remaining twenty years behind the times. That stage-coach will stand as much chance of continuing on its beat, if our trolley scheme goes through, as your machines have of keeping out of the scrap-heap when ours once get on the market. This isn't any news to you, Thatcher, and that's what makes your whole crowd so anxious.”

“If what Duncan tells us is correct,” Thatcher retorted quickly, “we have just about as much show of pulling off the trolley scheme as you fellows have of putting this machinery game over on us. Somebody has been going to do this to us for twenty years, but somehow the manufacturers keep coming back to renew their contracts.”

“Of course they do,” Cosden admitted; “they haven't dared to do anything else. Look at the terms in your leases! Any manufacturer would have to be absolutely sure that the new machines were backed strongly enough to keep you from punishing him for his temerity. That can now be guaranteed, and with the element of fear eliminated they will flock to us, rejoicing that they have the opportunity to leave their shackles of bondage behind them.”

“Another Emancipation Proclamation!” laughed Thatcher; but Cosden found the moment to impress the enemy with the strength of his position too opportune to allow himself to be diverted.

“Think of it, Thatcher,” he cried with characteristic enthusiasm. “In less than two years they can save enough, through the economies of production, to buy their machines outright, instead of continuing year after year to pay you tribute with nothing at the end to show for it. We give them methods as well as machines, and show them how an ordinary workman can produce the high-grade output of a skilled operative by means of the improved automatic features of our machinery. The makers of medium-quality goods can now turn out work equal to that heretofore produced only by high-grade manufacturers.”

“You're a grand salesman, Cosden,” Thatcher said lightly. “Your company ought to put you on the road! Our people would pay you a big salary to handle the sales end of our organization.”

“I shouldn't be worth ten dollars a week to them. There are three kinds of salesmen, Thatcher: one sells his concern, another sells his customers, and the third sells his goods. A man can't belong in the third class unless he himself believes in what he's selling. I've been making these machines for our crowd for five years, including the experimental period, and I know what I'm talking about. Four big plants are now being equipped, and when they once begin running you'll see your royalties dropping away from you like friends after a failure. The fact that you have had a monopoly has encouraged your people to keep their eyes on the stock-market instead of on the improvement of their machines, and our biggest asset is the fact that every manufacturer who is leasing from you to-day is sore over his treatment.”

“That goes without saying,” Thatcher admitted; “they would be sore if we gave them the machines outright. But if you are so sure your improvements are valuable, why go to the expense of duplicating our selling and manufacturing equipment when we stand ready to make a fair trade?”

“The new machines wouldn't be worth as much to you as they are to us.”

“Why not?”

“Because you would never use them. The improved models would simply be side-tracked to keep them from competing against your antiques. You would be paying whatever it cost to get hold of them for hush money, just as you have done a hundred times before.”

“Suppose we did: what difference would it make to you, so long as you get a good thing out of it? I don't understand that your company was organized for philanthropic purposes.”

“No; business and philanthropy usually work better when they're given allowances for separate maintenance, but in this particular case the two seem to be walking along hand in hand. Self-interest, Thatcher, is the strongest motive in the world, and when you find a proposition which offers self-interest to the buyer as well as to the seller you have an irresistible argument.”

“This is a great road-bed for a trolley-line,” Thatcher remarked, leaning over the side of the carriage. “The construction problem ought to be a simple one.”

“The proposition to have a line of cars run here is so obvious that there must have been powerful objections to obstruct it all these years,” Cosden answered, quite content to await Thatcher's pleasure in resuming the main topic of their conversation.

It was a beautiful clear, cool morning, and the sea at their left sparkled brilliantly in its sapphire splendor. To the right of the carriage road were attractive cottages, overgrown with blooming bougainvillea or other less spectacular foliage. Every now and then a more pretentious mansion appeared, built on some elevation which commanded a view of the water on either side, and surrounded by heavy clumps of cedar and fan-leaved palmettos. Frequently the road passed between high walls of solid coral limestone, from the crevices of which the ever-decorative Bermuda vegetation showed scarlet, orange and purple blooms against the green.

“There must be something more than sentiment,” Thatcher commented. “I suspect that we shall uncover some large personal interests here which have been strong enough to protect themselves—”

“And find concealment behind the convenient screen of sentimentality,” completed Cosden.

“Exactly. I wouldn't spend any time on it at all except that it seems so important to the people themselves.”

Cosden laughed so spontaneously that Thatcher looked up quickly, trying to grasp the unintended humor in his last remark. His companion was hugely amused and made no effort to conceal it.

“Well?” Thatcher interrogated good-naturedly; “aren't you going to let me in on it?”

“It's funny, that's all,” Cosden replied; “but it's perfectly good business either way you work it. Simply a question of how you sit when you have your picture taken.”

Thatcher's face demanded further explanation, but before Cosden spoke again by way of enlightenment his amused expression disappeared, and he became serious.

“I don't know as it is so funny, after all,” he said. “When you spoke of being interested in this trolley scheme principally because it was so important to the people, I couldn't help thinking how inconsistent you were.”

“Inconsistent?” Thatcher echoed.

“Suppose you owned that line of stage-coaches, and leased it out just as you do these machines. Then some men came along and proposed to build a trolley-line which would push the stage-coaches off the map. That's what our new machines will do to your old ones. In one case you're interested in the improved method because it is so important to the people; in the other you say, 'The people be damned.' But you're no different from the rest of us. Our so-called consistency is as full of holes as a sieve; but it's always the other fellow who sees it. We're too close to ourselves to get the perspective.”

“I am relieved,” Thatcher said. “If it is only a question of inconsistency I'll take a chance on holding my own. But sometimes we are not so inconsistent as we seem. The 'other fellow' thinks he has a joke on us when in reality he only sees part of the situation. This 'nefarious trust,' for example which you cite as a hideous illustration of grinding monopoly, took hold of an industry, twenty years ago, and brought system out of chaos, shouldered all the risk, taught manufacturers how to make money out of their business, and enabled small factories to become big ones by leasing them machines which they could not afford to buy. The trust has prospered, but so have the manufacturers. Who shall say that those who took the risks are not entitled to the rewards, or that the system introduced and developed by the trust was not as much in the interests of the people as this trolley-line we are proposing?”

“There isn't much of anything we can't prove if we argue long enough, is there?” Cosden retorted. “If I hadn't heard all that before, and if I hadn't seen the way the 'system' worked out, I should be almost persuaded. Some one told me once that there were two sides to every story except that of Cain and Abel, but I came across an Icelandic myth a while ago in which Abel was the murderer, and since then I've refused to believe anything until I know the other side. Probably the only way for you and me to agree on this question is for each of us to buy some stock in the other fellow's company.”

XV

       * * * * *

Edith had secured the necessary records for the victrola from the hotel office, and she and Cosden were alone in the ball-room ready for the first lesson in modern dancing. Cosden had never before noticed how enormous the room was, or how many of its windows opened onto the piazza, or how curious the average hotel guest is when a novice is about to be initiated into the mysteries of terpsichorean art.

“Pay no attention to them,” Edith reassured him. “Those who know how to dance have had to go through it, and those who haven't learned are perishing for an opportunity. Listen!” she cried, as the music began. “Can you possibly make your feet behave when you hear that heavenly one-step? Look!”

Lifting her skirts gracefully above her ankles, Edith made herself a veritable part of the music, pirouetting up and down and around, while he watched her in mingled admiration and trepidation.

“There!” she cried, stopping before him; “it's perfectly simple, you see. Now, you try it.”

“By myself?” he inquired.

“Of course,” she laughed. “How else can you learn?”

“All right,” was the dubious assent; “but don't you think we might pull those curtains down?”

“Nonsense! You might as well start in,—you couldn't look more foolish than you do now.”

“All right,” he again assented, and took his place on the floor.

“Now, left foot forward—one, two, three, four. No; left foot, I said. That's it. Now rise a little on your toes. Don't be so heavy, and for Heaven's sake look as cheerful as you can!”

“This is awful!” Cosden ejaculated, mopping his forehead. “Don't you think it's too warm a day to begin?”

“It isn't warm; it's really cool, and you haven't begun to begin yet. Now start in again. Left foot,—left I say, one, two—oh! that miserable victrola has stopped!”

“Let me wind it up,” Cosden insisted quickly, glad of the opportunity to struggle with something tangible.

“Now we'll try again,” Edith said amiably. “This time get started before the music runs down. Watch me just a moment. There,—now you know what to do. Left, dear man, left,—not right, and rise on your toes, one, two, three, four. Why don't you pay attention to the music?”

“I think I could learn better without the music. It throws me off.”

“Move with it; then it will help you.”

“I can't; it mixes me up.”

“Don't you feel any impulse to move your feet when you hear that music?”

“Yes; I feel an inordinate desire to run out of the room.”

“But, seriously, doesn't the rhythm of that one-step make you instinctively want to dance?”

“Not the slightest. I never wanted to dance in my life until now, and only now because you tell me that it's part of the game.”

“Did you ever play any musical instrument?”

“Oh, yes; when I was a boy I played the bones in a minstrel show.”

“Well, there's a ray of hope.—Wind up the victrola again, and we'll start all over. You do wind it beautifully!”

“This is too big a job you've undertaken,” he told her as they again stood facing each other. “Let's call it off.”

“No, indeed,” Edith protested. “It is only fair to say that you are not what would be called a natural dancer, but that will bring all the more glory to your instructor when once you've learned. Why, look at the tricks they teach animals! I'm not a bit discouraged, are you?”

“Are we down-hearted?” he echoed in a spirit of bravado.

“Not a bit of it; now we'll dance together, and I'll try to pull you around. There, put your arm around my waist,—that's right. Hold me closer,—don't be afraid. Imagine I'm your sister if it will keep you from being embarrassed. Left foot forward—ta, ta, ta, ta—that's better. No, let me lead. There, we can go forwards and backwards anyway, but you mustn't step on my feet. That's the first thing to learn,—dance on your own feet.”

“I beg your pardon—”

“That's all right; I don't mind it at all. But when we stop dancing, you know, you must take your arm away from my waist. How quickly you overcame that early embarrassment!”

“I don't intend to give you another chance to suggest that I'm afraid,” Cosden retorted. “I may not know much about girls or dancing, but if you think I haven't nerve enough to put my arm around your waist,—well, it's up to me to demonstrate.”

“You bold, bad man!” Edith pointed her finger at him in mock-reproach. “I sha'n't dare go on with the lesson until I've forgotten your threatening attitude! Now let's see if a little turn on the piazza won't give us courage to continue.”

Cosden assented with alacrity. “Splendid notion!” he exclaimed; “that will give me a chance to cool off.”

“You are warm,” she admitted, looking him over critically and noting that his collar was completely wrecked. “You must read the Polite Book of Dancing Etiquette—”

“Oh, Lord!” Cosden groaned.

“You will find there many useful suggestions which will add to your popularity with your partners. For instance, it tells you that when overheated by the exercise you should stand erect and throw your chin out; then the perspiration will run down the back of your neck and be less noticeable.—Come now, see what a light Bermuda breeze will do to cheer you up.”

Edith was well pleased with the results of the first lesson. She had felt some misgivings, for Cosden was the most masterful man she had ever met. If this masterfulness could not be broken down, then her plans could not be carried out; but she recalled the fact that Henry Thatcher, so pliable in his wife's hands, was spoken of as dictatorial and self-confident in his business relations. If this was true of Thatcher, it might be equally true of Cosden, and the experiment was well worth trying. In the hour just past Edith had proved her sagacity to herself. Cosden explained his present docility by saying that he always obeyed his doctor's orders; Edith had discovered in that brief time two facts unknown even to himself: that his confidence came only from a knowledge of his own strength, that in treading new and unknown paths he was not only willing to be led but accepted guidance gratefully.

After this important discovery, she intuitively came to a better understanding of the man. “Men know more than they understand, and women understand more than they know,” some one has tritely said. Edith Stevens was a woman, and understanding was enough; she did not crave to know. When Cosden stated so flatly, “I always get what I go after,” she had thought him a tactless braggart, who deserved to be shown his place; now, with this new light thrown upon his character, she understood his remark quite differently. The man knew but one way to accomplish his purpose, and that was to go directly at it, head-on, overpowering opposition by the force of his momentum. In his beginnings, Edith surmised, he had not always felt so confident, and these bold assertions were made partly to give himself additional courage and partly to conceal from the world the existence of any doubt as to his ultimate success. What had been first a policy became a habit, and if Edith were correct in her analysis Cosden was at the present moment repeating his early experiences.

       * * * * *

Time in Bermuda cannot be figured by calendar days. Whether this is due to the evenness and perfection of the temperature, which so satisfies the physical demands as to eliminate all desire for change, or to the natural beauty which exorcises those sordid demands life elsewhere compels, it would be difficult to determine; but the fact remains that except for the sailing of the little steamers a week is like a long, delicious day, with the nights a passing incident,—a curtain drawn for a moment to deprive the vision of its wondrous panorama, lest the spirit become satiated and thus less appreciative.

More than a fortnight had passed since Billy Huntington's spectacular departure, yet no one suggested that vacation days were drawing to an end. It was Thatcher who found least to occupy him, yet even he had fallen beneath the spell and was content to drift. By this time Marian was fully convinced that a match between Hamlen and Merry was foreordained, and that her mission was to drag him forth from his exile; but she was not satisfied with her progress in either one of her self-imposed labors. Hamlen was a changed man since the new companionship came into his life, but whenever he was brought up against the question of leaving his retreat the old terror seized him, and he slipped back behind his defenses.

“I wish I might,” said he to her one day, “believe me, I wish I might; but you don't know what you ask. The bitterness of my attitude toward the world has become an abnormal condition which you could not be expected to understand. Your visit here has tempered it—I know now that there are exceptions; but don't urge me against my better judgment. Let me remember this visit in all its happiness; perhaps its memory will enable me later to do as you suggest.”

Huntington was no more successful in his efforts. His classmate listened to him patiently and showed a full appreciation of the friendly suggestions; but no promise could be exacted, and Hamlen seemed stronger than the combined forces against him. Yet, in spite of disappointments, Huntington was optimistic.

“We may not be able to take him with us,” he admitted to Marian, “but after we are gone he will find this place unendurable. Time will be our ally.”

Cosden's sudden intimacy with Edith Stevens mystified Huntington, but he welcomed it as a temporary respite. So long as Cosden was making no exertion to advance his interests with Merry, no more active effort could be expected from his friend. He asked no questions and Cosden vouchsafed no information, which on both sides marked a change in the relations of the two men.

Edith was equally mysterious with Marian, smiling sagely when her friend tried to draw her out; but she admitted or denied nothing. She faithfully performed her self-assumed duties, and Cosden lived up to his agreement to take the medicine his doctor prescribed. By this time he was able to pull through on the one-step and the canter waltz, but his great success was the fox-trot. This, he discovered without assistance, is danced in as many ways as there are individual dancers, so he developed an original “series” which gave him supreme satisfaction, since as he explained, no one could prove whether he or his partner was at fault when a mistake was made. Edith had long since given up all hope of having him follow the music, but he had actually learned the steps, and his persistency in pursuing with grim relentlessness what she knew to be an irksome duty could but win her respect.

In fact, she looked upon the result of her experiment with no little pride. Each afternoon the two might be seen on the ball-room floor, working away as if their lives depended upon it, with the Victrola repeating over and over the same tunes which, except for her own persistency, would have driven Edith mad. Always after the dancing lesson they promenaded the hotel piazza “to cool off,” and their joint devotion to their undertaking was so assiduous that it became almost a feature of the hotel life. Edith's triumph came when Merry was called in to “assist” at one of the later lessons. Try as they would, Cosden and his new partner were at odds in each effort they made to dance together, while with Edith he succeeded passably well. In Cosden's mind there could be but one explanation.

“I always thought she knew how to dance,” he expressed it after Merry left them alone. “How little you can judge of anything until you know how to do it yourself!” And Edith, wise person that she was, did not explain to him that this was the first time he had danced without her guiding hand!

Cosden had become dependent upon his chief adviser in other ways than dancing. He found her so sympathetic in listening to his problems and so helpfully intelligent in discussing them that he gradually confided to her more of his intimate affairs than he had ever shared with any one else. Ostensibly, she was adviser only in his affair with Merry, but it was a short step to extend her line of operations without having him realize that she was exceeding her contract. She explained matters which seemed subtle to him with such clearness, her counsels were so wise and her criticisms so fearless that Cosden's admiration was profound.

“You are a bit severe, you know,” he said to her one day; “but I like it. The only reason I go to a specialist is because I know he understands his subject better than I do, and so I swallow what he tells me, hook, line and sinker. And you are a great success as an expert in your line, Miss Stevens,—you're all right.”

Whereupon Edith courtesied gracefully and answered demurely, “Thank you, sir; I am glad I give satisfaction.”

Thatcher and Cosden had carried the trolley proposition as far as lay within their power, and awaited a response from the Bermuda government before they could proceed. This threw Cosden back again upon his original purpose, to which he clung with a bulldog tenacity. Edith knew by this time that when his mind once settled upon a course diversion was an impossibility, so she encouraged rather than opposed him. She left Cosden's confidence in himself undisturbed while she encouraged his dependence, and complacently permitted affairs to take their course. Just when the master stroke would be delivered she could not tell, but she was prepared to have it descend suddenly at any moment.

The fortnight had given Huntington a new lease of life. His efforts to humanize Hamlen forced him out of his habitual course along the line of least resistance, and without analyzing his new sensations he found them to be agreeable. In addition to this Merry and he were boon companions now, and he discovered that the vivacity of a young girl was no less effective in making him forget his years than the noisier enthusiasm of his youthful nephew. Merry accepted her responsibilities with great seriousness, and discussed Hamlen's persistent obstinacy with Huntington from every possible angle. In fact, Huntington made a point of inventing new angles in order to prolong the discussions, and to supply the excuse for walks and drives which threw them much together.

As a result of their growing intimacy Huntington came to favor Billy's ambitions far above those of Cosden. He had not changed in his conviction that neither one of them was at all suited to the girl, but if it could be possible to hold matters in abeyance until the boy might be developed up to her, there would at least be much satisfaction to him personally if Merry could be kept in the family. Of course he must be loyal to his friend, but as Cosden seemed to be finding much pleasure in Miss Stevens' companionship his conscience did not suffer any twinges which were too painful to be endured.

But complacency is ever a forerunner of seismic upheavals. The days had repeated themselves often enough now for Huntington to regard their routine as practically fixed, and he was anticipating the usual quiet, after-breakfast smoke on the piazza, during which period he would discuss with Merry some new attack upon Hamlen's obstinacy, or some new trip during which the attack could be devised. This had seemed such a certainty to Huntington that Cosden's words were in the nature of a shock.

“Miss Thatcher and I are going sailing this morning,” he announced.

“Eh—what? Oh, sailing—are you?” Huntington stumbled a bit before recovering himself. “It's a fine morning for that,” he continued with decision.

“You've been doing better lately, Monty,” Cosden complimented him. “At first I didn't think you were going to help me out at all, but for some time now you've been putting yourself right into it, just as I wanted you to. What have you to say about the girl now? She's all right, isn't she?”

“You don't mean that you're still serious in that direction—”

“Of course I am. Why should you think I had changed my mind?” Cosden interrupted. “I don't often do that, do I?”

“But you have hardly seen her.”

“I've been biding my time, Monty, that's all, while Miss Stevens coached me up a bit. It's really a great game,—there's more to it than I thought.”

“You are absolutely unsuited to each other.”

“Why, Monty, I believe you're jealous!”

“Well, suppose I am?”

Cosden showed his amusement. “I would take that as a challenge from any one but an old cynic like you,” he laughed.

Huntington failed to enter into Cosden's lightheartedness. “This is a serious matter, Connie,” he insisted. “That little girl is too fine to have her name bandied like this. I give you warning right here that I step down and out on this proposition. I can't imagine a worse crime than to harness a high-strung, thoughtful, sentimental child like that to a human adding-machine like you, and I won't be a party to it.”

The younger man realized at last that his friend was serious. He looked at him soberly for a moment, then he placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Is this all our friendship amounts to?” he asked.

“It is the greatest act of friendship I have ever been called upon to show you,” Huntington returned. “You would be as wretched with her as she with you. I felt sure that you had come to the same conclusion, and I admired your good sense.”

“Is there by any chance some deeper reason?” Cosden demanded pointedly.

“No, Connie,” Huntington replied quickly; “don't be ridiculous! I am just as unsuited to her as you are. Why, I'm old enough to be her father! But somewhere there is a man who is meant for her and who is worthy of her, and I only hope that he will appear before any one persuades her into making a mistake.

“Don't you think her capable of taking care of that herself?”

“Frankly, I do. I don't think you have the remotest chance of interesting her.”

“What has happened to lower me so in your estimation?” Cosden persisted, puzzled rather than resentful. “Our friendship dates back a good many years, Monty, and this is the first time you ever made me feel you disapproved of me. Does it mean—”

“It means that I'm proving my friendship now,” Huntington interrupted, “by telling you an unpleasant truth. During this long friendship, which I never prized more highly than I do this moment, I have watched you work out your success, often against heavy odds. All this I have admired, Connie, but to win as you have done has been at a cost I had not realized until I saw you under these new conditions: it has kept you from developing those finer instincts which a man needs to guide him at a time like this.”

“You mean romance, I suppose, and sentiment.”

“I mean a sensing of the proportions and a respect for appropriateness even if it interferes with your preconceived plans. Your interest in this girl exists admittedly because of what an alliance with her will do for you: it will bring you closer to the group of operators of which her father is the head, she will preside with credit over your household, through her you may perhaps secure social advantages which now you feel are beyond your reach.”

“Isn't all that legitimate?”

“Entirely legitimate, measured by laws of barter and sale,—but to my mind eminently improper when applied to Miss Thatcher.”

As Huntington grew more and more intense Cosden's attitude gradually became normal again, and an indulgent expression replaced the serious aspect which his face had assumed as their conversation progressed.

“Well, Monty,” he said, slapping him on the back, “you've got that off your mind, and it's a good thing to have happen. What you want is to take your endorsement off my social note; that's all right,—consider it done. Your sentimental notions are great in story-books but less valuable in every-day life. You stick to your ideals, and I will to mine. I've made up my mind to get married, and you know what happens when once my mind is made up.”

“You are absolutely hopeless!” Huntington cried despondently.

“Hopeful, you mean,” laughed Cosden, “in spite of your gloomy forebodings. What you say ought to shake my confidence in myself, no doubt, but somehow I think I'd rather hear it direct from Miss Thatcher herself. Hello!” he exclaimed as he looked at his watch, “it's time to start. Cheer up, Monty! Really, things aren't half as bad as they look from where you sit!”

XVI

       * * * * *

However abrupt Cosden's action may have appeared to Miss Stevens or to Huntington, in his own mind he believed himself to have selected the psychological moment for which he had patiently waited. It was true that he had seen comparatively little of Merry Thatcher, but the time had been well spent in preparation for the grand event. Now, particularly since Huntington had spoken as he did, Cosden was eager to put his new-found knowledge to the test, and to disprove his friend's contention.

It was a business axiom with Cosden that an order must be half sold before the salesman approached the prospective buyer. “People don't buy anything these days,” he hammered into his sales-manager; “they have to be sold.” And Cosden was a man who practised what he preached. The frankly-admitted lack of familiarity on his part with the particular market in which he proposed to trade was offset, he believed, by the expert coaching he had received from Miss Stevens; and this should have prepared him for any emergency. After all, were not the principles the same the world over? Somewhere, back in the hazy, academic past when Latin had been compulsory, he remembered that a certain gentleman whose name he could not then recall had plunged in medias res. He remembered distinctly how much this act had won his admiration; now he proposed to emulate his illustrious predecessor.

Even granting that Cosden's self-analysis was correct to the extent that he possessed no romance in his make-up, the present surroundings were such as to suggest the “psychological moment” even to the most obtuse. The sloop, after running before the wind, was skilfully guided in and out among the little islands and past the beautiful shores of Boaz and Somerset by a hand on the tiller to which sailing was evidently second-nature. The girl rested against the gunwale, her eye alert, her face lighted by a smile of quiet contentment, her white, lithe figure brightly contrasted against the varying background of blue water and the green of the islands as they were left behind.

“Where did you learn to handle a boat?” Cosden asked her, interrupting the silence which she seemed content to accept.

“Oh, there's nothing to it here,” she answered. “I wonder if they have a breeze like this all the time in Bermuda? It seems to be ready-made for the visitors. But I think it would become monotonous, don't you? I like something to work against.”

“You have evidently sailed a boat before.”

“I'm on the water a good deal every summer. Father gave me a knockabout two years ago, and I've had lots of fun in her. It isn't always as simple on Narragansett Bay as it appears to be here.”

“You seem to be pretty good at anything you undertake.”

“Oh, no!” Merry laughed deprecatingly. “I play at everything, and perhaps that is why I am not particularly good at anything. Phil says I have more courage than judgment.”

“That sounds like jealousy! I'll wager you can beat him in most games, unless he is better than the youngsters I know.”

“I can, in some,” she admitted, “but Phil is a great oarsman. He's on the crew at Harvard, you know,” she added with a pride which amused Cosden; “he will probably row against Yale again this year. But Phil doesn't go at other sports as hard as I do. I have to go at them hard. I simply must be doing something. Mother calls it restlessness and Father says it's because I haven't grown up yet. Perhaps they are both right; but whatever it is I just can't help it.”

“I hope you will never grow up, if to lose your enthusiasm is the penalty.”

“Then you don't think it's unwomanly?” she asked, grateful for his approval.

“On the contrary,” Cosden asserted. “It is enthusiasm which wins in everything to-day. Confidence in one's self, belief in one's subject, enthusiasm in its presentation; that is my daily creed.”

“But you are a man,” Merry protested. “You have made your success, so you have a right to have confidence in yourself—”

“My success is only partially complete,” Cosden interrupted, quick to seize the easy opening. “When I left college I undertook to make money: I did make it. Then I undertook to compel that money to earn me a place in the business world: I made that dream come true. Now I have reached the third effort. My money is of value only so far as it secures for me what I want, and a part of what I want I can't get alone: that is a home, with the right woman in it. A man can make his clubs and all that sort of thing by himself, but it takes a woman to secure for him the social life which he ought to have. I'm looking for that woman now, and I intend to get her.”

A smile crossed Merry's face as Cosden concluded his matter-of-fact statement. “You are demonstrating your daily creed,” she said.

“Of course I am. If I didn't you would accuse me of inconsistency.”

“Have you found the woman you—intend to get?”

“I'm not sure. What kind of woman do you think she ought to be?”

Merry's face sobered, and she became thoughtfully serious. “First of all, a woman who loved you,” she said at length; “that goes without saying.”

It was Cosden who smiled this time. “I see you still have some old-fashioned ideas left; I had looked upon you as absolutely up-to-date.”

“Is love old-fashioned?”

“Love is a result rather than a cause. It comes from the combination of one or more causes: propinquity, similarity of tastes, natural attributes, I might go on indefinitely. Two natures are attracted to each other before marriage, but love really comes as a result of the closer companionship which follows. Could anything be more common-sense or scientific than that?”

“Is that what men believe?” she asked.

“Not all; which explains the appalling list of matrimonial bankrupts.”

They were out beyond Ireland Island now, past the great dry-dock and the barracks. The girl brought the boat about and started on the homeward tack.

“That is a very interesting idea,” she said soberly as she shifted to starboard. “It never occurred to me that love had become a commodity. That is very interesting.”

“But you haven't told me what kind of woman you think my wife should be,” Cosden insisted.

“She should be a poor girl, of good birth and personal attractions,” she answered promptly.

“Why poor?”

“Because otherwise she would be giving everything and you nothing. You must supply something which she lacks or it wouldn't be a fair trade, would it? If a woman loves a man, there is no need to measure what she gives against what she receives, but your 'common-sense' plan suggests it, and from a 'scientific' standpoint I should think it absolutely essential.”

“But your statement is not correct, Miss Merry,” Cosden protested earnestly. “You would do me an injustice if you stopped at that point: am I not offering her my name and my protection?”

“Of course all this is an imaginary situation,” Merry laughed mischievously, “or I shouldn't dare to speak so freely; but in justice to my sex I can't stop now: suppose her name is as good as yours, and that she is entirely competent to protect herself?”

“Great Scott! Don't tell me you are a suffragist!”

“But you would want this woman you—intend to get to be a suffragist, wouldn't you?”

“Not under any circumstances!”

“Still, your marriage is to be on an up-to-date common-sense, scientific basis: can it be unless you and your wife stand on equal terms?”

“I never saw such a girl to ask questions,” Cosden protested almost petulantly. “You must have been going to woman's suffrage meetings all winter.”

Merry laughed outright. Her triumph was too obvious not to be enjoyed; but she quickly checked herself.

“I have been very rude,” she said contritely; “but what you said so completely destroys the vision which every girl has in her heart that I couldn't resist the temptation to tease you. No, Mr. Cosden; I'm not a suffragist, and I never attended a public meeting in my life. Mother thinks I'm too young to enter into such things; but I've read a good deal, and I can't see why, in this scientific age, men and women shouldn't stand side by side at the ballot-box as well as elsewhere. For myself, I'm not quite ready for it, but I admit that it is nothing but sentiment—a holding on to a bit of old-fashioned precedent if you like—which holds me back. It seems to mar that vision I just spoke of, Mr. Cosden, even as your ideas completely destroy it.”

She was in earnest now, and the girlish, mischievous attitude had completely vanished. Her grasp upon the tiller tightened, her eyes looked far ahead and Cosden knew that in this mood she would have welcomed a young typhoon—anything to struggle with, rather than the smooth lapping of the water against the sides of the boat as the light wind bore them tranquilly on toward their landing. Even to him, unaccustomed as he was to the finer sensibilities which expressed themselves in every feature of the girl's face, the surging thoughts which forced so tense a silence commanded silence in his own response. It was the closest he had ever come into a woman's inner shrine, and instinctively he respected it.

It was her own movement—a brushing back of a strand of hair which the breeze had loosened and blown across her face—which finally broke the tension, but her eyes did not drop. Still looking far ahead of her she spoke again, but the words seemed addressed more to herself than to her companion.

“I can't bear to give that vision up,” she said quietly, “and yet I never expect to see it realized.”

“Tell me what it is,” Cosden urged as she paused. “Visions aren't exactly in my line, but perhaps you can make me see this one.”

“It's silly of me; you wouldn't be interested, of course.”

“But I am,” he insisted. “Please go on.”

“Well,” the girl said consciously, “since you have confided your creed to me, I'll tell you what my vision is,—but you mustn't laugh at it for it means a great deal to me.”

“I promise—cross my heart,” Cosden replied.

“In this vision each one of us atoms, man or woman, has a distinct individuality, and each atom is intended to express its own individuality alone and in its own way unless two atoms become joined together by laws of natural attraction. In that case these two continue on their way together, each strengthened by the combination, and thus enabled to express their joint individuality as neither could do alone. But love must be the crucible, Mr Cosden. Common-sense won't merge them, science won't do it. The two atoms can't be made into one without the crucible.”

They were almost at the “Princess” landing now, and Merry gave her full attention to her duties as skipper. As the boatman took possession, Cosden assisted her onto the landing and they walked slowly up the stone steps. At the top she turned to him suddenly, the brightest of smiles replacing her former seriousness. Cosden marveled at the rapidity with which her mood changed.

“That's my vision, Mr. Cosden,” she said simply; “don't think it too foolish. I must have some guide just as you have your daily creed. I haven't confidence in myself, but I do believe in my subject, and you tell me that I have enthusiasm. Please let that atone.”

“But that vision of yours—” Cosden demanded doubtfully. “You asked me if all men regard marriage as I do; let me ask you if all women have that vision, as you call it.”

“I suppose they have. If not, why should they give up their independence?”

“I thought all women wanted to marry—”

“That is where you are not up-to-date, Mr. Cosden,” she laughed. “Perhaps the woman you—intend to get has no vision; if so, it will be that much easier. But she must be poor, Mr. Cosden,—you really mustn't take advantage of her!”

XVII

       * * * * *

Huntington passed an uncomfortable half hour after watching Merry and Cosden start off on their sailing-trip, and he was glad to have Edith Stevens break in upon his unprofitable self-communion. Cosden had put into words a fact which until then Huntington had stubbornly refused to acknowledge: he had actually reached a point where he heartily disapproved of his friend. Connie had said it, and the realization that what he said was true shook the long-established friendship to the core.

As he analyzed the case Huntington found it difficult to explain why this complete change in conditions should suddenly have taken place. Cosden was no different from what he had been during all these years of their intimacy. In fact, he knew no one among his friends who was so absolutely consistent in conducting his life in accord with principles established before their friendship began. Others had commented on Cosden's commercial instincts, and Huntington always defended him, yet now these same traits caused him to criticise his friend even more severely than those whose attitude he had previously thought unwarranted.

The change, then, Huntington concluded was in himself rather than in Cosden; and from this point he tried to discover what that change really was. What had their relations been during these years? They had never come together in any business way, and Huntington now for the first time wondered why it would not have been natural for Cosden to turn over to his office some of his frequent cases in litigation. It had not previously occurred to him that he might have expected it, but now he wondered. This in itself was evidence that his friend did not consider him seriously in the practice of his profession. The real fact was that they had played together, and that their intimacy had stopped at that point. Huntington now recalled that in gratifying those characteristics which found enjoyment in music, art or literature he instinctively sought the companionship of other friends, and the same analysis revealed to him that Cosden had done likewise in turning to other and more kindred spirits in living that part of his life with which his friend had little sympathy. It had all happened so naturally that Huntington had never realized until now that in spite of their intimacy there was a side to each man's life into which the other never entered.

This was the explanation as Huntington thought it out, and the fact that it could be explained at all gave promise of readjustment. The present situation did not require any change in the relations of the two friends. It had been precipitated by the accidental pulling aside of a curtain which revealed a picture Huntington must always have known was there, but at which he had always steadfastly refused to look. The mistake came when Cosden insisted that he peer behind the curtain, and became intensified when he permitted himself to be drawn into that side of his friend's life in which he should have known he had no part. The friendship need be in no way affected: simply restore the old relations, use greater discretion in keeping them within the bounds which Nature had prescribed for them, and all would be as before.

Huntington abhorred an enigma because when once focused in his mind a mental impossibility was created to rid himself of it. He found it lurking behind his Transcript in the evening, it tried to crystallize itself in the smoke of his last pipe before retiring, it flirted with him coyly over his coffee-cup the next morning. Until the figment became a reality and was dismissed it was a haunting menace to his peace of mind. Now that he had discovered an explanation of his disapproval of Connie and had found the antidote, that particular enigma was disposed of, and he should have been free to resume his normal state; but to his further discomfiture this was just what he found he could not do. He had cut off one of the Hydra's heads, but others remained which spat at him viciously.

Why was it that Cosden's attitude caused him such peculiar annoyance at this particular time? Had he been entirely straightforward with his friend, had he been quite frank in answering Hamlen's question regarding Merry's resemblance to her mother? Huntington's disgust with himself at that first slip became intensified by its repetition. He recalled De Quincey's arraignment of the murderer on the ground that murder so dulls the sensibilities that it is an easy step from this to falsehood. Huntington, with his Puritan ancestry, would have allowed himself to be torn by wild horses before he would deliberately tell an untruth, yet here, on two separate occasions, he had undeniably juggled with the facts.

When Cosden suggested that there might be some deeper reason for his objections he promptly and equivocably denied the implication that he had any interest in Merry beyond that of an older friend; yet he now knew that the denial was absolutely false. What he told Cosden was what ought to be the case rather than what the case really was. This was his secret, and he had protected it in the easiest way, which as usual was a cowardly subterfuge. The fact that he had made a misstatement or that he had a secret to conceal had come to him only during this period of self-communion since the little sloop sailed away, leaving him alone with his reflections. What he said to Cosden, that he was equally unsuited to Merry and that he was old enough to be her father, expressed the cold, hard facts; but he needed no second-sight to tell himself that during these days of companionship, such as he had never before known, the girl's sweet personality had penetrated the sham armor of the cynic, and that he was face to face with an emotion far deeper than any he had experienced from time to time in his library, in front of that table with its curious exhibits, with the stage-like accessories of the albatross-stem pipe and the flickering light from the burning logs. How tinsel-like it all seemed to him now, compared with this flesh-and-blood experience in the open air, with its glorious setting of the sea and the beautiful island foliage!

He had reached this point in his mental activities when he saw Miss Stevens approaching, and he greeted her cordially. Face to face with this latest revelation, he disliked his own company. His responsibilities, which had seemed terrifying to him so short a time before, now appeared insignificant compared with the new responsibility with which he had saddled himself. He thought little at this moment of the burdens imposed upon him by Mrs. Thatcher, by Cosden, or by Billy: he must now protect the girl against himself, and that would be the hardest task of all.

Edith Stevens, as well as Huntington, found herself without her usual occupation this morning. Cosden told her, the evening before, of his plan to take Merry sailing, so she reverted to her natural habit of late rising, from which she had temporarily reformed herself, knowing that Cosden always breakfasted early and was usually looking for companionship. Seeing Huntington absorbed in self-contemplation she gravitated in his direction.

“We've lost our little playmates, haven't we?” she said cheerfully, as he rose and pulled up another piazza chair for her. “Why isn't this a good time for our Society to go into executive session?”

“Capital!” Huntington assented, replying only to the second part of her question. “Is the secret-service department ready to make its report?”

“I've found the girl,” she announced bluntly; “but I imagine you know already who she is.”

“The girl Connie is going to marry?” Huntington simulated a proper attitude of interrogation.

“The girl he thinks he wants to marry,” she corrected.

“Oh! he only thinks so. That's it, is it?”

Edith raised her eyes from the toe of her buckskin shoe, which she had been poking vigorously with her sunshade, and smiled brightly.

“Yes,” she said; “that's it.”

“You speak with conviction.”

“Well,” Edith explained, “I know Mr. Cosden better now than when the Society last met. He wants to get married, and he thinks he has picked out the right girl, but—”

“But—what?”

“But—he hasn't; that's all.” And again Edith smiled brightly into Huntington's face.

“Connie isn't in the habit of making mistakes; he usually gets what he goes after.”

“So he told me,” she admitted, with an expression on her face which Huntington thought significant; “but there's always a first time to everything; and this is where Mr. Cosden meets his Waterloo.”

“I understood that you had been coaching him—”

“So I have.”

“But I thought we agreed—”

“We did; and I've lived up to our agreement. You watch his face when he comes in! I'm oozing out the balance of the morning here simply to give myself that satisfaction.”

“You must have some inside information which has not been incorporated in your report.”

“Not exactly; but I know Mr. Cosden and I know Merry. When he begins to trade for a wife she won't understand the language, and if he tries to teach it to her—well, he may learn something himself.”

“You think he will propose to her this morning?”

“If she lets him get as far as that. He's been working up to this point ever since he arrived, and the only way to cure him was to let him have his own way.”

It was a novel experience to Huntington to see any one other than Cosden himself undertake to manage his personal affairs. The certainty with which Miss Stevens spoke evidenced a closer acquaintanceship with Connie than Huntington had realized existed.

“What will happen when this episode is over? Do you care to prophesy?” he asked.

“He will come back to his counsel to have his wounds bandaged, and then the education of Mr. Cosden will continue from the point where it was temporarily interrupted.”

“You are assuming a great responsibility,” Huntington suggested.

“I'm still retained,” she answered demurely. “That's what you lawyers call it, isn't it?”

Edith rose and sat for a moment on the edge of the piazza rail, her eyes looking down the harbor. She was impatient for the returning boat, and made no attempt to conceal it. At last her vigilance was rewarded, and she returned to her chair.

“S-ssh! they're coming!” she said mysteriously, placing her finger on her lips. “We mustn't seem to be waiting for them. Talk to me!”

Huntington tried to obey her instructions during the intervening moments, but it was obvious that Miss Stevens heard little of what he said. She was intently watching the steps yet endeavoring to appear entirely unconcerned. Merry was the first to see them, and she came forward with her usual animation and enthusiasm.

“We've had a wonderful sail!” she said. “The morning was simply perfect, and it is such fun to play hide-and-seek among these little islands.”

“She knows how to handle a boat all right,” Cosden said from behind, but his tone did not reflect the girl's vivacity.

“Why, it's like sailing a toy boat in a bath-tub,” Merry disclaimed. “You come down to the shore some time when there's a good breeze and I'll show you some real sailing. Mr. Cosden is such good company!” she added, turning to the others. “He has given me some really new ideas, and that is more than one usually gains from a sailing-party. I'm going to think them over so that I can argue with him more intelligently next time we have a discussion.—I must run up now and get ready for lunch.”

Cosden remained behind.

“Come sit down with us, Connie,” Huntington urged.

“I prefer to stand,” was the unexpected answer, yet in spite of his remark he sat down on the piazza rail which Miss Stevens had so recently vacated. He too looked down the harbor, but his companions realized that it was not the panorama which interested him. They also sensed the kindliness of silence. At last he turned toward them.

“I don't know why I shouldn't speak before both of you,” he said. “You, Monty, are my oldest friend, and Miss Stevens has been good enough to let me take her into my confidence. I want you both to look me over and tell me what's the matter with me.”

“You look perfectly good to me, Connie,” Huntington replied lightly, scenting unpleasantness, and helplessly trying to divert it.

“You know what I mean,” Cosden replied brusquely, determined to force the issue, “and I want you to take me seriously. What you said this morning gave me a jolt, of course, but it didn't sink in deep enough to affect my confidence in myself. Now it's gone all the way through and come out the other side, and at the present moment I feel as big as a two-spot in a pinochle deck.”

“Did she refuse you?” Edith asked, with almost too much eagerness in her voice.

“Refuse me?” he echoed. “She didn't even give me the satisfaction of recognizing that I had the slightest intention to propose.”

“Then what did happen?” Huntington demanded. “You seemed to be on the best of terms when you came up here, and Merry complimented you on being good company.”

“She was rubbing it in, that's all. We didn't have any trouble; that isn't the point. I planned this out, as you both know, with the definite idea of asking her to marry me, and before I knew what had happened she had twisted the situation around where I was on the defensive and had made myself look so ridiculous that I wouldn't have had the nerve to propose to a colored cook. There is something in all this which I don't understand, and I must understand it. I'm average intelligent, I've had some experience in life, and if a slip of a girl like that can make me lose my confidence then there's something radically wrong. You struck it right this morning, Monty, and I tell you it hurts!”

The man's humiliation was so complete that both his companions were eager to relieve him. Huntington's loyalty to his friend caused instant forgetfulness of his recent resentment.

“Don't mind what I said, Connie,” he urged contritely. “I had no right to speak as I did.”

“You had every right,” Cosden insisted. “All these years you have seen the lack of this something in me, and you've overlooked it because you were my friend. This morning you had sand enough to tell me the unpleasant truth when you knew I ought to hear it. What I want to find out now is what these 'finer instincts' are, and how I am to get them.”

The momentary silence which followed was evidence of the difficulty his auditors found in answering his appeal. He was in such deadly earnest that it was impossible to avoid direct reply. When this mood was on him, Huntington knew that he would deal with nothing but facts.

“Let me leave you and Mr. Huntington to discuss this,” Edith said, rising.

“Please,” Cosden detained her. “We are past the point of sensitiveness. I want your advice as well as Monty's. I'm up against something I don't understand,” he repeated, “and I'm looking to you two to show me up to myself.”

“What is the use, Connie?” Huntington expostulated. “You have gone alone all these years living your own life; why disturb yourself now over something to which you have always been blissfully indifferent?”

“Can't you see that the situation has changed, Monty? It was all right until I found out that I was different from other people. This is what the boys at the Club meant when they jollied us about our friendship. I always thought I was as good as anybody, but if an experience like this can make me lose my confidence in myself then the matter is really serious. It is this confidence which has made it possible for me to accomplish what I have, and if I once lose it then my strength is gone. It's all I have, Monty,—I can see that now. I must protect it, and you must help me. You must tell me what the trouble really is; I don't care how brutally frank you are so long as you tell me.”

“Then come over here and sit down,” the older man said gently. “I will try to make it clearer to you. The finer instincts I referred to can't be bought, for they are not for sale; they come from every-day contact with the humanities, and with those whose lives are spent in this atmosphere. Your business has been your religion, Connie, and you are branded with its ear-marks as plainly as the goods your factories produce. Now, for the first time, you find yourself in an atmosphere which considers business only as a means to bring the refinements of life within closer reach, and it stifles you because of your unfamiliarity with it.”

Cosden listened patiently to the lengthy discussion which followed with the same attention which he gave to Thatcher when the trolley proposition was outlined, but his expression when Huntington finally paused and looked up showed bewilderment rather than comprehension.

“I hear your words, Monty,” he said frankly, “and your meaning is as dense as Merry's talk about her 'vision.' But there's one thing you haven't said, probably because you want to spare my feelings, which no doubt explains the whole thing. This knowledge of the 'finer instincts' comes naturally to you, Monty, because you were born in that atmosphere you speak of; I wasn't. Some men acquire them as a result of their own efforts, some devote their efforts to other things, as I have done. 'You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.' Isn't that what you really mean to say, Monty?”

“You are too severe on yourself, Mr. Cosden,” Edith said sympathetically, affected by the spectacle of this strong, self-sufficient man suffering under the lash without realizing in the least the power which wielded it. In his complacent mood she had longed for the ability to wound his self-assurance, but the climax had been reached without her assistance, and the woman in her failed to find the satisfaction she had anticipated.

“Well,” Cosden said finally, rising and holding out a hand to each, “I can't say that you've given me much enlightenment, but you've made some things fairly clear. It will be a long time before I can look my business in the face without blushing; but I count on those who are really my friends to stand by me while I pumice down the marks of the branding-iron. In the meantime, don't you think for a moment that I'm indifferent to this thing we're talking about. Now that I know it exists, in spite of your doubts, I intend to get it. If business interferes, I'll cut out business. I refuse to let anything stand between me and what I want.”

XVIII

       * * * * *

Cosden pursued the subject now uppermost in his mind with the same relentless energy which he applied to other and more agreeable undertakings. He had no desire to make himself a “ladies' man,” such as Edith Stevens described her brother and as he knew him to be; but this idea that he was unfitted to enter into any circle he might choose, provided he could force the entrance, was as novel as it was disagreeable. When Huntington first intimated that he lacked certain qualities Cosden had not taken him seriously. Monty was a Brahmin, albeit one of the best of fellows, and this class had never been an object of his envy nor considered by him an example to be emulated. Cosden had discovered that those who constituted it were eager enough to know him and to be intimate with him when once they came to realize, in a business way, that this relationship might serve their own best interests. Born outside the sacred circle, he expected nothing else, and the fact of his friendship with Huntington, and his close acquaintanceship with others of the same stamp, seemed to him a triumph of merit over birth. If a man could trace his ancestry back to the right people he became a member of this group automatically, and in spite of lack of personal achievement. How much more credit, Cosden argued, to the man who forced recognition through sheer accomplishment alone.

For this reason he felt that Monty's criticism, if it was to be taken as such, was the expression of a class rather than an individual. It was not to be expected that his friend, reared in so unpractical an atmosphere, should sympathize with or even understand this common-sense approach to the subject of marriage. It was natural, indeed, that he should be shocked by it; yet it had been a surprise to have the easy-going Monty rouse himself to the extent of making definite objections to the method of procedure. But Cosden had observed that Huntington's conscience every now and then, like his liver, became overburdened, and on these rare occasions he was liable to make remarks which would sting if taken seriously.

Now, however, it had been brought home to him that perhaps, after all, his friend's comments might contain a grain of truth. The fact was forced home not so much by what Merry Thatcher said to him as the wide divergence of viewpoint which became apparent as a result of their discussion. Cosden instinctively felt himself in the presence of something higher and finer than himself, and this feeling put him at a disadvantage. When he had ridden to Elba Beach with Merry and Billy they were companions and all met on the same footing; now, with Merry alone, he realized that the girl looked upon him as a man with ideas rather than ideals, and with a creed of life which she neither understood nor cared to understand. Yet he was not the first man to apply business principles to this all-important partnership, and others had not made themselves ridiculous. “Your business has been your religion and you are branded with its ear-marks,” Monty told him. It was the branding which caused the trouble, Cosden concluded. The “finer instincts” could not be bought, perhaps, but surely they might be acquired. He had been too crude in the manner of expression. It came down to a question of finesse in this as in any other transaction of life, and when reduced to this medium he thought he understood.

To arrive at this point required time. After a brief and silent luncheon with Huntington Cosden set out by himself for a long walk, returning in season for dinner in what appeared outwardly his normal mental condition. In the evening he visited with the little group which had formed the habit of taking their coffee together on the piazza, however far their paths might diverge during the day. Even Edith Stevens was deceived, but Huntington knew his friend's temperament well enough to realize that he was working everything out in his mind preparatory to the next step, by which he would endeavor to regain the lost ground.

By the following morning Cosden had arrived at several definite conclusions, and his courage returned. He breakfasted at his usual early hour, and Edith Stevens, for some reason best known to herself, came down-stairs at about the same time. After breakfast, as had become almost a habit, they sat together on the piazza, he with his cigar, she with an infinite nothing upon which from time to time she plied a not overworked needle.

“Well,” he said at length, knocking off the ash from his cigar and regarding it contemplatively for some moments before he continued,—“Monty gave it to me good and straight yesterday, didn't he?”

“You asked him to—”

“I know I did. You remember the man who said he didn't get what he expected, and some one told him he was lucky not to get what he deserved? Well, I got both.”

“Mr. Huntington had to say what he thought; you forced him to.”

“But I didn't really believe he did think it. I've been bowling along all these years, and I suppose I've become too complacent. When I called myself names yesterday I hadn't the slightest idea that any one would agree with me. It was a case where I wanted to be contradicted.”

“Oh!” was all that Edith said, but the exclamation conveyed more to Cosden regarding her real attitude than a whole vocabulary.

“Then you agree with Monty?” he demanded.

Edith had expected this crisis to come, so it did not find her wholly unprepared. In fact she had been awaiting it as the point from which his education was to be continued, as she had explained to Huntington. She pursed her lips a little as she replied.

“Yes—and no,” she answered slowly, showing a serious consideration of the subject which impressed Cosden. “I think he was right in saying that business has left its mark upon you, but entirely wrong in his assumption that what you lack can't be acquired.”

“Of course it can,” Cosden agreed emphatically; “and what is more, it's going to be acquired. I don't intend to have anything stand in my way. The only thing to consider is just how and when.”

“Exactly,” she encouraged him,—“just how and when. These are the questions. Have you answered them?”

“Not yet. I'm trying first to understand what Monty meant. I thought I had learned the game. While, as I've told you, I started out with the definite intention of making money, I've bent over backwards to conduct my affairs so that they should be absolutely above criticism. I believed that in doing this I proved that I had those 'finer instincts' which mean so much to Monty. I've made other people play the game square with me, but I've always played it square with them. My principle has been to fix things so that the other fellow would do right because he had to, and I would do right because I wanted to. You have to do that because the other fellow doesn't always want to. Take one case for example: I had a contract for a number of years with a house to supply them with goods of a certain standard, made in accord with a fixed formula. Six months ago my superintendent told me that by some mistake at the factory these goods had been ten per cent. below the standard called for, covering a period of nearly five years. My customer had made no complaint—he supposed he was getting what the contract called for, and so did I. The natural thing to do was to make all future deliveries up to standard and to let it go at that; but that isn't my way. The man had paid for something he hadn't received, and it was up to me to make good. So I figured out the difference between the two grades, and the volume of business, and sent him an explanation and a check for $6500.”

“That must have been a pleasant surprise for him, and you made a customer for life.”

“Yes,” Cosden replied, with a queer expression on his face: “it was a pleasant surprise for him all right. He wrote me a beautiful letter, telling me what a noble, upright thing it was to do, and that he didn't believe another man in the trade would have done it. He even expressed his deep appreciation. Last month the contract came up to be renewed, and he canceled it because another house cut me a quarter of a cent a pound, and I wouldn't meet it.”

“I never heard of such a thing!” Edith cried indignantly. “But you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing.”

“Yes; I have the satisfaction and the other fellow has the contract. But I am only telling you about it to show you why I can't understand Monty. I thought I was showing some of those finer things he says I don't possess. The man who canceled that contract was born with those wonderful 'instincts,' and exhales them with every breath.”

“I don't believe you do understand just what Mr. Huntington means,” she said quietly.

“Let me tell you something more,” Cosden went on. “There is many a corporation right in the city of Boston that spends more money in lobbying at the State House than it does in producing its goods, yet the officers of those same corporations go around without having their best friends tell them they are 'branded with the ear-marks' of their business. They are just as commercial as I am, and some of them aren't nearly as careful to play the game straight. That is where I can't comprehend Monty's attitude. If a man observes the 'finer instincts' in his business, as I believe I do, why isn't the brand it marks him with a hall-mark of respectability in any society in which he wants to mingle?”

Edith had been very busy with her fancy-work, and she did not look up when Cosden appealed to her for an answer.

“Now you're getting nearer to what Mr. Huntington means,” she said with decision. “You know your business world,—its customs and its standards, and as you have just explained they are not always consistent. The same is true of the social world, and that, as I understand it, Mr. Huntington knows better than you do. The social world has its customs and standards just the same, and in many cases they are equally inconsistent. You can't explain these inconsistencies in one any more than in the other; they simply exist. What you still have to do is to become familiar with them as you have with those in the business world.”

“That is where the wife comes in,—that's what she's for,” Cosden insisted. “That's the very reason I want to marry a woman who knows that end of the game. When I select a partner in my business I don't want him to handle my end, but rather some part of it which he can do better than I can. And the same thing ought to apply here.”

“Perhaps it ought, Mr. Cosden, but that is just the point,—it doesn't; and the first thing Mr. Huntington would tell you is that the two don't mix. Here are two distinct worlds which touch each other very closely; the one admits the other to a certain extent, the other never admits the one.”

“Then the wife won't do it?”

“Not alone. Many a wife has accomplished for her husband what he never could have gained for himself, but only when the man has permitted her to teach him how to leave his business behind him when he leaves his office. Business plays its part in the social world, but it is one of those polite amenities not to recognize the machinery which makes society possible.”

Cosden moved uncomfortably in his chair. “I'm not a climber,” he said. “I haven't any desire to force myself in where I'm not wanted; but here I am, a member of some of the best clubs in my own city, recognized in the business world, and acquainted with every one who is worth knowing. Until within twenty-four hours I supposed that I was as much a part of the social organization as I chose to be,—no more, no less. Now, the best friend I have in the world tells me point blank that the very thing I supposed was most to my credit is a bar across the path I have elected to take. I'm not ready yet to admit it. Monty says that I've lost something, but he's wrong: apparently the attributes he has in mind I never even possessed.”

“Then the more reason to exert yourself until you do possess them.”

“But if I lack them, why haven't I felt the lack before?” he appealed. “I'm thrown all the time with the very men on whom the social life of Boston rests.”

“Where, if I may ask?”

“In business, and at my clubs.”

“But not in their homes?” Edith pursued.

“No,” Cosden admitted; “there has never been any reason to meet them there.”

Edith folded her work deliberately and looked squarely at her companion.

“My friend,” she said with decision, “'the time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.' Some one must set you right. You have too much knowledge in other directions to be so childlike in this. If you still look upon me as confidential adviser, I'll appoint myself that one.”

“I should be eternally grateful.”

“Then don't be offended if I speak plainly. I believe that I understand the situation exactly: you have pursued the even tenor of your way all these years, following a definite plan, and accomplishing your set purpose. In the confidence of having accomplished it, you decide that the moment has arrived to exercise a side of your nature which up to that moment has scarcely interested you, and you try to put your new thought into execution as mechanically as you have carried through every other purpose which you have ever had. Your election to your clubs, no doubt, was the result of careful and business-like plans, laid down when your name was first proposed, and followed up with the same irreproachable persistency which would be applied to any other business undertaking.”

“Of course,” he acknowledged: “that is the only way to put anything through.”

“So your clubs, which you have looked upon to certain extent as social achievements, have been only a part of your every-day business routine, after all?”

“Yes; if you choose to put it that way.”

“Then let me tell you that however intimate you become with any man, you are not admitted to his social circle until he has presented you to his wife or sisters, and has invited you to his home. Every woman knows that, and I supposed every man did.”

“My ignorance is perhaps the best evidence of how crude I really am,” Cosden said soberly.

“Don't say crude,” Edith protested considerately; “say rather that your social life has been undeveloped. Until this new desire for a home came to you the necessity of considering that side had not appealed, and when you once decided to make the grand plunge the only way you knew how to go at it was as if you were selecting a partner in your business. Perhaps, as you say, the same rules ought to apply, but I assure you they don't. And that is just where you stand now.”

“Then I will learn the rules which do apply,” he asserted with determination. “But why, if this is so all-important, have you yourself so little use for society?”

“It is a very different matter, my friend, to make light of something which you have and something which you lack. I may despise society, but if it was society that despised me you'd see me starting a campaign in New York that would make a football game look like a funeral procession.”

Cosden regarded his animated companion for some moments in silence, but any one who knew him would have recognized that his mind had seized upon the germ of a new idea which pleased him, but which he was considering critically for the moment.

“Look here,” he said suddenly. “It doesn't take me long to make up my mind. Why couldn't I persuade you to start a campaign like that for me—for us—in Boston?”

The abruptness of the suggestion, and the complete change from the subdued and humiliated seeker after light back to the dominating man of affairs who forces the solution of his dilemma, took even the astute Edith by surprise.

“Am I by any chance to consider that as an offer of marriage?” she demanded.

“That is just what I mean. What do you say?”

“Well, of all things!” She rose to her feet and walked up and down the piazza with Cosden following close behind. It was a moment or two before she recovered herself, and then she turned on him.

“I take back all the sympathy I ever gave you,” she cried indignantly, “and I hate myself for having tried to help you with my advice.”

Cosden regarded her outbreak with consternation. “I always supposed an offer of marriage was the greatest compliment a man could pay a woman,” he exclaimed surprised.

“It is no compliment when such an offer is based so cold-bloodedly upon business advantage. You come down here to get a wife, which you have decided in your counting-room will increase your assets. The first girl you select doesn't fit into your plans, as you had expected, so you look me over critically, tell me it doesn't take you long to make up your mind, and offer me a partnership.—All that remains, I suppose, is for us to discuss office hours and the division of the profits! My word! You are the most mercenary human creature I ever met!”

Edith was splendid in her anger, but Cosden refused to take her seriously.

“Come,” he insisted; “you are far too sensible to look at it that way. Why, every one in the hotel is asking if we are engaged. What shall I tell them?”

“Tell them you proposed to me and that I refused you,” she retorted defiantly, turning from him and disappearing through the open door.

XIX

       * * * * *

“Well Marian, my play-time is over for the present,” Thatcher remarked as he folded a cable he had just received and placed it in his pocket. “They need me at the office, so I'll sail on Monday. There's no reason for you to leave until later unless you wish to.”

She looked up at him with an expression of such real disappointment that he felt the unspoken reproach.

“We have stayed a month longer than we intended, as it is,” he explained, “and my going need not hasten your plans at all.”

“I don't want you to return alone, Harry, and I loathe the thought of turning my back on this enchanting spot. Truly, each day makes it more difficult to leave it.”

“Then if you don't go at once the problem may become serious,” he laughed.

“You are so different down here, Harry, I hate to give you up to business again. That is a wife's real rival; I'm jealous of it.”

“A rival which has made our pleasures possible, so you should be friends. Only a few years more of it, little woman, and then you may plan my days as well as yours. Then we'll have one long play-time together.”

“You've been saying that for five years,” she protested petulantly; “but we seem to come no nearer. Haven't we enough to do that now?”

“Who shall say what 'enough' really is?” he smiled, taking her hand in his and looking with affection into her deep eyes. “That isn't what holds me; it takes time to work out of the old interests without serious loss, Marian, and present conditions aren't helpful.”

“I suppose not,” she agreed unwillingly; “but do make the period of waiting as short as possible. Merry and Philip are grown now, and I'm hungry for another honeymoon, such as we have been having here.”

“Some day, little woman, some day!”

“Don't say that, Harry!” she protested again, this time more vigorously. “There is no expression in the English language I detest so much as 'some day.' When I was a little girl I had an uncle who was forever going to take me somewhere or give me something 'some day'; and 'some day' never came! I've always looked upon those two words as a diabolical combination invented by older people as an aggravation to children. But I will be patient, Harry. Can't you start in now to take some medicine which will be sure to clear your blood of business by the time these things you speak of work themselves out?”

“If present conditions continue,” he laughed, “they will accomplish what you wish better than anything so homeopathic as physic. We shall all be thrown out of business whether we like it or not. This cable I have just received,” he continued more soberly, “is a case in point: the government is starting in to 'investigate' one of our pet interests, and the stock has begun to drop out of sight already. It is paternalism with a vengeance: protecting the infant industries to encourage their growth, and then spanking them when they respond!”

“Well,” Marian sighed, “it's all Greek to me, but if you say it's wrong then I know it is. Now,” she added, slipping her arm through his, “let's go over to the pool and see what is going on there.”

Shouts of laughter and sounds of splashing greeted them as they reached the top of the tiled steps of the “Princess” pool, and they paused for a moment to see the finish of an exciting race.

“You're too fast for us, Miss Merry,” Huntington acknowledged his defeat. Then he turned to Cosden who finished just behind him.

“Aren't you ashamed of yourself to let a girl beat you like that, Connie?” he demanded.

“How about yourself?” was the retort; “you always claimed to be some swimmer.”

“You let me win!” Merry declared.

“Indeed I didn't,” Huntington protested stoutly. “It is eminently unfit that woman should defeat man in any athletic contest; she has beaten us out in everything else, and we must reserve something. Perhaps Connie let you beat him,—did you, Connie?”

Cosden laughed consciously. “Did I ever let any one beat me in anything when I could prevent it?” he asked.

“There you are,” Huntington waved his arms dramatically. “We admit ourselves temporarily defeated, but not disgraced. As for myself, I shall immediately go into strict training, in an endeavor to alter my lines from endurance to speed.”

The Thatchers strolled along the edge of the pool and seated themselves on one of the benches at the farther end of the enclosure.

“Here come Edith and Philip Hamlen,” Marian called her husband's attention to the new arrivals; “where do you suppose she found him?”

“Hello, people,” Edith greeted them. “Mr. Hamlen has been waiting for you in the hotel, and I told him I thought we should find you here. This looks to me like a perfectly good party.”

“Come sit with us,” Thatcher urged, drawing up another bench. “We elderly folk will watch the children at play.”

Edith suddenly caught sight of Cosden and she perceptibly stiffened. “Children!” she echoed, with an inflection of her voice and a toss of the head which attracted Marian's attention. “How is it that Mr. Cosden goes into the water? I should think he would be afraid of rust.”

“I supposed it was by your orders, Edith,” Marian said smiling. “Isn't he still acting under your instructions? But why 'rust'?”

“Certainly not by any orders of mine,” she replied with emphasis. “What he needs as an adviser is a machinist to keep that wonderful business head of his in repair. Wouldn't you think it would rust if he got it wet?”

Edith's new attitude was more intelligible to Marian than to the men, but discretion suggested a change of subject.

“Harry is taking us home with him on Monday,” she announced, suddenly turning to Hamlen and watching him narrowly as she spoke.

“On Monday?” Hamlen repeated after her. The color rushed into his usually pale face, and a tremor in his voice showed how much the news affected him. “You are going Monday?”

“The Thatcher family intact,” Marian answered him; “I don't know about the others.”

“Of course Ricky and I go when you do,” Edith added. “I'm quite ready. The place is beginning to pall on me.”

There was an injured look in Hamlen's face as he turned to her quickly. “Don't say that of my beautiful island!” he begged.

“Oh, the place is all right,” Edith assured him; “it is simply some of the foreign element I don't like.”

“Must you really go?” Hamlen asked Thatcher appealingly.

“It is my master's voice, and we slaves of the market dare not disregard the call.”

Hamlen forced a smile. “I shall miss you,” he said simply.

“Come with us,” Marian urged in a low voice. “That would make our visit here complete.”

The man made no response, yet she could see no signs of weakening. The color left his face and it was now more ashen than before. The lips were tightly compressed as if he feared to trust them, and his hands clenched the walking-stick he held in front of him with a grip of iron. He mastered himself at last, and the pathetic smile which wrung Marian's heart whenever she saw it returned to his face. It was too clearly the reflection of a wound which pride alone concealed from sight.

“You are too generous,” he said at length, feeling the necessity of making some response,—“far too generous; but it is like you, Marian. Huntington is generous too, but you both are mistaken in your kindness. There are some exotic growths which can't be transplanted; I am one of those.”

He paused for a moment; then he continued: “I must ask one more favor before you go—come to me to-morrow afternoon and let us have a final celebration in honor of our reunion. Come to my villa, all of you, and in the midst of the family I have created—my flowers, my trees—let me dedicate my home anew to the dear friends who have brought life back to me, even though they too will soon join the memories amongst which I must continue to live. Give me this last experience to remain with me after you are gone.”

“Of course we will, Philip,—we would love to come,” Marian replied, affected by his words and the depth of emotion which his voice expressed. “It will be the one remembrance we would most rejoice to take back with us if we can't take you. For these days, Philip,” she added in a voice so low that he alone could hear,—“these days have not been vital ones for you alone, dear friend. Our meeting has brought back much to me which I shall always cherish, and beyond all I wish I might be the means of giving you back that happiness you lost through me.”

“No, no! You mustn't say that, Marian!”

“Oh, but I feel the burden of it, Philip! You give me no chance to make restitution. If you would only come—”

A tremor ran through his frame but he quickly controlled himself. “No, Marian,” he said firmly; “you must come to me!”

While the little group were conversing together the bathers had left the pool, and now one by one appeared from the bath-houses, radiant from their invigorating exercise, and looking for new worlds to conquer. Cosden was first, and he seated himself on the bench beside Edith.

“Am I forgiven?” he asked in a low tone, but with a smile which expressed confidence in the answer.

“I never talk shop outside of business hours,” was the chilling response, as she drew herself slightly away from him and looked straight ahead.

Merry was not far behind, and her appearance prevented Edith's hauteur from becoming too apparent.

“Mr. Huntington and I are going to have another race to-morrow morning,” she announced. “I'm sure he let me beat him this time just to humiliate me the more when he shows what he can really do.”

“I'd back you against the field if I could find any takers,” Cosden insisted. “That shows what I think of his chances.”

“It's great fun, anyway. Isn't this a fine old world, Momsie?” she cried impulsively, throwing her arms around her mother's neck and kissing her.

“'Here comes the bride,'“ chanted Cosden as Huntington finally walked toward them with his dignified stride. “If I took as much time to prink as you do I believe I could fuss myself up to look like something.”

“You'd need a file!” Edith ejaculated spitefully.

“I beg your pardon?” Cosden interrogated, but no explanation was vouchsafed.

“This looks to me like a council of war,” Huntington remarked.

“Call it rather a demobilization,” Thatcher corrected. “I have made myself everlastingly unpopular by deciding to return to New York on Monday. Marian insists on leaving when I do, and the Stevenses are equally considerate of my pleasure. So I've spoiled everything.”

“I have only been waiting for some one stronger than I to determine my own departure, so I include myself among the refugees. And Hamlen will go with me, won't you, my friend?”

Hamlen held up his hand deprecatingly. “I must complete my sentence of exile,” he said with finality.

“Have you heard anything from New York?” Cosden inquired. “I left orders not to cable.”

“The market is bad, and liable to become worse.”

“Then my vacation is over, too. How about the trolley project?”

“Another postponement. I'll give you the details later.”

“Mr. Hamlen has invited us to have tea with him to-morrow afternoon as a farewell celebration, and I have accepted for all.”

“Not a farewell, Mrs. Thatcher,” Huntington corrected, looking across at Hamlen. “There are some souls to whom we never say farewell. If he won't come with us now it simply means a brief postponement. This friend of mine cannot come into my life as he has done these weeks and then go out of it again. He and I have already lost too many years of the companionship which should have been ours; now together we must make up for lost time.”

Hamlen looked at him gratefully but did not answer. In single file the little party walked along the narrow edge of the pool, down the steps and back to the hotel. Cosden manoeuvered so that he had a word with Edith before they separated.

“I sha'n't let you be cross with me,” he said.

“I'm not cross; 'disgusted' is the word if you really want to know.”

“But suppose my speaking was more sudden than my decision?”

“I would rather not discuss it, if you please.”

“I've seen a great deal more of you than I have of Merry—”

“But when you make up your mind, Mr. Cosden—” Edith recalled his own words.

“I never change it without reason,” he replied. “And more than that, it is very unprofessional to desert a client just when he needs you most.”

“When a client disregards his counsel's advice it is time to change counsel,” she retorted with decision.

“Oh, dear, no!” Cosden replied in so conciliatory a tone that she was partly mollified. The words rang with greater sincerity than she had believed him to possess. “That isn't the way real counsels do at all, especially when the client is so contrite.”

“What is their custom?” Edith asked, amused in spite of herself.

“They charge it up on the bill and make him pay handsomely for his presumption.”

“Oh!” she said, weakening a little in the caustic attitude she had assumed. “If it comes down to a matter of bookkeeping perhaps we can effect a compromise.”

XX

       * * * * *

“To-day, Connie, is Saturday, to-morrow is the Sabbath, in which we are not permitted to toil, neither can we spin, and on the day which followeth we sail,” Huntington remarked at luncheon.

Cosden regarded his companion critically. “It doesn't rhyme so I know it isn't poetry; then it must be Scripture.”

“Freely paraphrased, it means that this afternoon is the last opportunity we shall have to exercise our golf-clubs on Bermudian soil.”

“Enough said,” Cosden answered sententiously; “I'll be ready whenever you are. What a relief it will be to play on a real course again when the season opens at home!”

“I admit that this is the one great deficiency of an otherwise admirably ordered resort,” Huntington agreed. “Still, it is a whole lot better than no course at all, so let us be philosophers.—I'll be ready in an hour.”

The afternoon's round proved an eventful one to Huntington. Not that his clubs were under better control, or that he was less penalized by the atrocious lies encountered so frequently. Not that he succeeded in defeating his opponent, which was usually the measure of an eventful day; but he found Cosden in a state of mind which gave him infinite relief.

The weak spots shown up by the analysis Huntington had made of his friendship with Cosden caused him real anxiety, explain them as he would. It was one thing to play with a man three times a week and another to live with him for a month of consecutive holidays. He had wondered whether their relations could ever return to what he had believed them to be before the shock came to his sense of propriety. Cosden's new state of mind shifted the balance so that the scales hung even, and the hope thus engendered made him indifferent to sliced drives, bad lies, or topped approaches. To Huntington, a friendship such as this had been assumed the proportions of a trust, and to disturb it was to shake the foundations of his every-day life to a most disquieting extent.

“This visit to Bermuda hasn't been at all what I expected,” Cosden confided to him; “but I'm inclined to think it has been a success after all.”

“I have found much to interest me here,” Huntington admitted.

“Between you and Miss Stevens I've learned a few things about myself I didn't know before. The experience hasn't been altogether palatable, but perhaps it will prove salutary.”

“That is ancient history now, Connie,” Huntington protested, following his usual custom of avoiding the unpleasant. “Why bring it up again? Keep your mind on your game.”

“It hasn't become ancient history yet,” he insisted. “I want you to understand that I appreciate your friendliness in going out of your way to say disagreeable things when you thought I needed to hear them. It isn't every one who would have done it.”

“That's all right; now let's forget it.”

“I don't want to forget it. In fact I'm particularly keen on remembering it. I tackled a job before I knew how to handle it, with the inevitable consequences. Now I think I can come nearer to understanding what the game is.”

He paused long enough to negotiate a particularly difficult stymie which Huntington had laid him on the third green. As the ball dropped into the cup he looked up with a satisfied smile.

“You see I can play a game that I do understand, don't you, Monty? I'm going to play this new game just as well after I'm on to it. You were right: that little Thatcher girl is all I thought she was, but we are absolutely unsuited. I had to find it out for myself, but now it is as clear to me as it has been to you from the beginning. And this isn't the only thing I've found out.”

“The air is pretty clear down here, Connie; one can see a long ways.”

“Yes, when he's supplied with a pair of binoculars like you and Miss Stevens. The thing I can see clearest now is that I'm not ready to marry any girl just at present.”

Huntington stopped as he was about to swing, dropped his club, and seized Cosden by the shoulders.

“Then you aren't going to desert me!”

“Hold on!” Cosden cried as he released himself; “you're going too fast! Don't overlook the fact that I said 'just at present.' It may be I shall never marry, but something tells me that there are wedding-bells for me before I get through with it. There's no doubt at all, however, that before that takes place I must acquire some of those flossy things you've taught me to look for. I'm going to take a few hundred shares in some humanizing company and see what it does for me. Then I'll find out just what there is in it, and let the future take care of itself.”

Now that Cosden had come to these eminently satisfactory conclusions Huntington was too wise to offer any advice. His courage rose as this responsibility rolled away from his overburdened shoulders, and he dared hope that before he reached New York Mrs. Thatcher would voluntarily abandon her quixotic notion concerning Merry and Hamlen. This would leave him free to pull the strings for Billy,—but here he sighed. Could he hope ever to bring the boy up to the standard he himself would insist upon before permitting any thought of an alliance? And was the sigh all because of doubts of Billy? Forty-five must give way to twenty, but he admitted to himself that the supreme burden of all remained. If some of those years could only be turned back! But he knew himself now, and in that knowledge rested power.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, one of those superlative days which Bermuda produces now and then as an aggravation to her departing visitors, and to demonstrate that she herself can improve even upon her own perfection. Those who had planned to devote the morning to packing against the morrow's sailing found the voice of duty too weak to make itself heard above the irresistible call to the open. Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher seized the opportunity to drive again to Harrington Sound, Merry and Huntington took a final walk to Elba Beach, while Cosden insisted that Edith Stevens permit him to escort her to the Barracks and the band concert. This left Ricky Stevens entirely out in the cold, but he was so accustomed to it that he did not even notice that it had happened again. Cheerfully lighting a cigarette, after the others had departed, and swinging his stick with an energy deserving of better things, he devoted the morning to making a final round of the tobacco-shops, laying in a huge amount of additional smoking materials.

By afternoon all were again united, and set off together for Hamlen's villa. Their host elected to receive them in the garden instead of at the house, and as the guests passed through the rustic arbor, vivid in the coloring of the poinsettia which bore it down, each felt in varying degree the dramatic effect of the reception. Hamlen stepped quietly forward to receive them, clad in the familiar white doe-skin suit which was never so effective as against its present background. His manner was courtly, but the reserve his friends had seen broken down during their visit again possessed him, and his face, even when he smiled to welcome them, was reminiscent of some great renunciation.

“Forgive me for not meeting you when you first drove up,” Hamlen said to Marian. “In my sentimentality I preferred to greet you here. These trees, these shrubs, these flowers,” he indicated, “I planted one by one. I tended them in their infancy, I have watched them in their growth. To me they have personalities as much as human beings. They represent my family, they are all I have, and, as I told you yesterday, I want them to join me in this last meeting before you depart and leave us to ourselves.”

Their host's attitude was not fully appreciated except by the three who knew him best, so it was natural that by degrees the party separated in such a way that Mrs. Thatcher, Merry and Huntington were left with him while the others explored the grounds in greater detail.

“For the first time in my life, Marian,” Hamlen said, “I shall regret to see a steamer pass my Point and leave me cut off from the world. As I told you, always before I have gloried in it. To-morrow—”

“We shall be waving to you to-morrow, Philip, and wishing you were with us.”

“It won't be long,” Huntington added, “before you will be on one of those same steamers on your way to us.”

“I hope so,” was the non-committal reply.

“We do want you, all of us,” Merry smiled persuadingly. “We have come to know each other so well here that we shall miss not being where we can run in to disturb you in your work.”

“I shall miss those interruptions too, and the work will be all I shall have to fall back upon. Somehow,” he added, turning to Huntington,—“somehow I haven't been able to do the same work since you have been here. I don't understand it. I have been happier during these weeks than in all the years which preceded them, yet my work has not been so good. Why is it?”

“The reason is obvious,” Huntington answered quietly, but with a degree of satisfaction in his tone. “In what you say I find a pledge that you will come to us. Our visit, Hamlen, has disturbed the equilibrium of your life; it can never be the same again. Your work now is not so good because your mind has found a new horizon, and refuses to confine itself within the narrow compass which it had before. You can't do as good work again until your life finds new anchorage. Then you will reach heights beyond your dreams; but it will be through your friends that the new anchorage will come. We can afford to be patient, Hamlen, for you must surely turn to us; you cannot avoid it no matter how hard you try.”

Huntington's magnetic voice affected Hamlen as deeply as his words. His vision seemed so clear, his domination so complete that it startled the weaker man. Mrs. Thatcher and Merry knew at that moment that, if he chose, Huntington could have compelled Hamlen to follow him to the ends of the earth; and the response their host made showed that he recognized it too.

“You won't force me, Huntington?” he appealed.

“It must come only when you wish it,” was the reassuring reply; “but when that moment does arrive, know well, dear friend, how hearty a welcome awaits you.”

Hamlen took his hand in both his own and gazed for a long moment into Huntington's face. “Classmate—friend,” was all he said, but those who heard the words knew them to be enough.

As they mixed again with the others, and the conversation became more general, the seriousness of Hamlen's earlier bearing partially wore away, relieving the unnatural tension which had almost turned an informal social function into the observance of a religious rite. Then the shadows lengthened, and two of the servants brought out a rustic table laden with eatables, with a huge bowl of strawberries as a centerpiece. There was no need of decoration beyond its cut-glass and rare china, for each dish was a selected masterpiece.

“A Class Day spread in February!” Merry exclaimed enthusiastically. “How we shall miss these strawberries when we get home!”

“'Strawberries may come and strawberries may go, but prunes go on forever,'“ Cosden added, glancing at Edith for approval.

The whole experience affected Mrs. Thatcher deeply. She saw the Hamlen of her youth full of promise and ambition, she saw the Hamlen of to-day bound hand and foot in the bonds of his false sophistry. What would he have been had she not broken her word to him? She was vaguely conscious that her present emotion was deeper than any she had ever been called upon to feel for her husband or for her children; she half-sensed the fact that previously her deepest feelings had been for herself. Now she felt a sympathy which demanded restitution, and the impulse must be worthy since it was for the happiness of some one other than herself. Of course, Merry should not be coerced against her will,—but if it could only be!

Every episode, however epochful, must end, and Marian rose at length, indicating that the good-byes must be spoken.

“You'll be down to see us off, Philip?” she asked.

“No,” he answered unexpectedly; “if you will excuse me I should prefer to watch you from my Point up there. I want you to remember me amid my own surroundings, rather than as a part of something to which I don't belong.”

       * * * * *

Next morning, as the little tender passed Spanish Point, carrying its passengers to the “Arcadian,” three persons stood in the stern waving to a solitary figure standing erect and motionless. When he made out the greetings from the boat he raised his arm high above his head and held it there, like a Roman of old, in stately recognition. He gave no sign that he saw their further salutes, yet they knew he could not fail to see them. They remained there until the figure became smaller and smaller, and then finally was cut off altogether by a turn in their course.

“This is too much for me!” Mrs. Thatcher cried suddenly, as if apologizing for the break in her voice. “If I don't get my mind on something else I shall burst into tears! I'm going forward with the others.”

Merry and Huntington still lingered, hoping that they might catch one more glimpse of the solitary watcher; but in vain. When the girl turned toward him Huntington saw that tears glistened in her eyes.

“That is the most pathetic figure I have ever seen!”

Huntington made no answer, but at that moment he became conscious that he was holding a small hand tightly grasped within his own. Impulsively he raised it to his lips, then he as suddenly released it.

“To seal our friendship,” he explained consciously, “at this crisis in the life of one who has been the means of bringing us together. I owe him much for that!”

XXI

       * * * * *

The “Arcadian” rested lazily at anchor just outside the harbor, apparently as willing as other visitors to drift on the tide of peace and contentment. The coils of smoke, rising straight upward from its funnels, supplied the only sign of intended departure. The bustle and activity usually attendant upon a sailing seemed absent, and the boat lay there like a pleasure-yacht ready to take on board its master's guests.

This impression deepened as the passengers from the tender were transferred on board and moved about the spacious decks, visiting their state-rooms resplendent with inviting brass bedsteads in place of the discouraging berths, and inspecting the swimming-pool.

“You must be sure of your weather before you indulge yourself there,” Cosden remarked. “They told us, coming down, of a dignified British admiral who was tempted to a plunge, but no sooner was he in the pool than a young cyclone struck the boat, and for twenty minutes he was thrown forwards and backwards and sideways in spite of the efforts of the stewards to get him out. As he weighed nearly three hundred pounds the situation became serious. Finally, when the water was drawn off, he was dragged upon the stone slabs more dead than alive and held there until the storm abated, indifferent to the dignity of his person or to the glory of the British navy.”

“That ought to act as an excellent flesh-reducer,” Huntington commented. “Perhaps it would serve in my efforts to alter my lines for speed.”

“I don't see that you need it,” Edith laughed; “but we'll all be down to give encouragement.”

“About that time you'll be making love to your little brass bedstead,” remarked Mrs. Thatcher.

Edith's face fell. “I forgot all about that!” she cried aghast. “You don't think it will be as rough going back as it was coming down, do you? Oh! I forgot all about that!”

“It's certain to be bad enough to make you feel 'very annoyed,'” Marian confirmed maliciously.

“Let's go on deck,” Ricky Stevens said with a sudden show of interest; “it's so awfully stuffy down here!”

Edith gave him a glance of approval. “For once in your life, Richard Stevens, you have a real idea. I can feel the boat beginning to roll now.”

“Nonsense!” Huntington laughed, “we're scarcely out of the harbor yet; but the deck is much the better place; we are passing close to the shore and this last view of the islands is beautiful. We shall have ample opportunity to inspect the boat later on.”

“I've seen all I want to,” Edith asserted, as they started back to the companion way. “It was silly of me to forget that awful experience coming down. I am sure the boat is rolling, in spite of your denials.”

“Then look,” Huntington insisted, as they stepped out on the deck again. “You could navigate this sea in a canoe.”

“Well, anyway,” she compromised, “I shall be much more comfortable in my little steamer chair, so lead me to it.”

Mrs. Thatcher, still affected by her last sight of Hamlen, was glad to sit down beside her friend while the others walked up and down the decks, watching the passing panorama of the shore, knowing that it would last too short a time at best.

“Marian,” Edith said suddenly, “I have a presentiment that I shall die of seasickness on this trip home, and there is something I want to say to you while I can.”

“No one ever died of seasickness, child,” Marian laughed; “but if you have something serious on your conscience the sooner you get it off the better.”

“It's Mr. Cosden,” Edith explained.

“I noticed that something had gone wrong in that quarter. Has he escaped you, after all?”

“It is really too bad of you to take advantage of me when I'm so ill!”

“My poor Edith!” Marian said soothingly, “forgive me, dear; I forgot your serious condition for the moment. Tell me about Mr. Cosden.”

“He is impossible,” the invalid announced. “I really thought there was some hope for him until a few days ago, but he is so frightfully commercial that he crocks.”

“He—what?”

“It comes off on everything he touches. He can't look at anything from any other standpoint. It's a tragic disappointment to me, and I think it just as well that I am going to expire from this awful seasickness. I really thought I could train him, but he's too crude. That is the only word to use.”

“He can't be that or he couldn't be Monty Huntington's friend. I rather like him. He's blunt and matter-of-fact and all that; but I like to see a man with confidence in himself.”

“I have an idea that Mr. Huntington has somewhat revised his opinions. I certainly have; and whatever anybody else may think I agree with myself.”

“That ought to be comforting to you, my dear; but I'm really sorry things haven't pulled through this time. I'm afraid it's your last chance. What did he do that was crude,—refuse to propose?”

Edith sat bolt upright, her cheeks flaming, with all signs of her recent indisposition vanished.

“I hate you in that tantalizing mood, Marian Thatcher! You always put the meanest interpretation on everything! Of course he proposed, but he didn't do it in a nice way; he just figured it out as if it was one of his business deals, and made me feel as if I ought to go right to the shipping department and get packed up.”

“My dear Edith,” Marian expostulated; “you mustn't be so fastidious. It doesn't make so much difference how these men propose; the main thing is to have them do it. Truly, I'm disappointed in you! Here you have been working desperately to lead him to a point where he would let you put the ball and chain on him, and then, for some silly little reason, you let him get away from you! Really, I'm disappointed! From what I've seen, you two seem admirably suited to each other.”

“You don't understand, Marian,” she protested; “he made this trip for the express purpose of picking out a wife—”

“In Bermuda? Why couldn't he find one nearer home?”

“The girl he had selected for the distinguished honor was in Bermuda—”

Marian Thatcher was interested. Her amusement over her friend's annoyances, real or imagined, became tempered by curiosity, and that changed a passing incident into an event.

“He told you this and yet proposed to you? Who was the other girl?”

“You really don't know?”

“Certainly not. Why should I know? This is all news to me.”

“I'm glad to be able to tell you something, my dear Marian,” Edith said complacently. “You are so terribly superior it really cheers me up to have the chance to add to your knowledge, even in a small way. Mr. Cosden came down here for the purpose of proposing to Merry.”

“To Merry!” Marian cried. “That man had the audacity to think he could marry my child! Well, upon my soul! Why, he never saw her more than two or three times before he came to Bermuda! How could he possibly have fallen in love—”

“In love!” Edith laughed. “Love? That's a real joke! Mr. Cosden has never dealt in that commodity! I tell you, Marian, he just picks out the thing he wants, and then he gets it—”

“He could never get my daughter.”

“But you just said you admired men who had confidence in themselves—”

“I didn't say I cared for men with such unmitigated nerve as that. The idea!”

“You thought us well suited to each other.”

“Certainly I did; that's an entirely different matter. You are just as mercenary as he, and I think you would make a perfect team,—but Merry! Ho, ho! The audacity of it!”

Sitting on the edge of her steamer chair Marian tapped the deck excitedly with her toe and carefully adjusted an imaginary crease in her skirt. Suddenly she turned again to her companion.

“So he came down to get Merry,—and proposed to you?”

“Yes; rather well manoeuvered, wasn't it? You see, don't you, that my mercenary instincts saved you from an unpleasant maternal duty?”

“I bless you for it,” Marian said heartily; “but you've refused him, so that leaves him loose to begin over again. He's not safe yet.”

“I wouldn't worry about that just now,” Edith reassured her. “Mr. Cosden has learned a few things since he has been under my instruction, and I think he will be less precipitate.”

“Why don't you continue the good work and polish him up for yourself? You must have found some good points or you wouldn't have gone to all this trouble.”

“No, Marian; it's too big a contract. I once had hopes but they are gone. The first thing I knew he'd have me packed up in spite of myself and shipped off somewhere. I'm very disappointed, but I dare not take the chance.”

It was fortunate, if Miss Stevens was to unburden her heart to her friend at all, that she acted so promptly, for after the headland of St. George's and St. David's light-house faded away in the distance it became apparent that the elements were not kindly disposed toward those on board the “Arcadian.” The air became oppressive in its sultriness, and the clouds gathered ominously. Within an hour the calmness of the sea was forgotten. The little party playing shuffleboard found it difficult to keep their feet, and of a sudden a sharp, vicious squall struck the boat, sending all uncertain passengers to their state-rooms. Luncheon, served with difficulty, found a reasonable number at their seats, but by dinner-time the “good sailors” might have selected any locations they chose. Nature had declared a division, and the state-room stewards found far greater demand upon their services than did those in the dining-saloon. The majority of the passengers simply endured until the safe haven of New York harbor might be reached, the minority adjusted themselves to the conditions and made the most of them.

Merry and Huntington were among the fortunate minority.

“At last I have found something to struggle against!” she cried enthusiastically during the storm, as they stood in a sheltered position on deck watching the quivering steamer plow steadfastly through the great waves.

“Still eager for a struggle!” Huntington exclaimed smiling, understanding the spirit of the girl better than he cared to acknowledge. “I don't like to think of you as struggling at all.”

“I must,” she said firmly. “Unless I do, I feel myself slipping backwards.”

“Of course,” he admitted, “struggling means development, yet my wish for you is freedom from anything which opposes. Is it selfishness on my part, this desire to keep you as you are, or is it merely another of those paradoxes of which life is made up?”

“Whatever it is,” Merry answered simply, “I know that your wish is for my good, for I know you are my friend.”

She turned toward him as she spoke and looked full in his face with an expression of confidence in her own which tested Huntington's self-denial. But the years—the inexorable years—were there!

“It is you who have made me realize the necessity of struggling,” she continued. “It is through the companionship I have had these weeks with you, and your friendship, that I have been able to crystallize ideas which before were so uncontrolled that they made me restless and discontented. What I heard you say to Mr. Hamlen, what I have seen in your every-day philosophy has taught me to concentrate my efforts in one grand struggle with myself.”

“If you keep it there,” Huntington answered, “I shall be content; it would be no kindness to wish it otherwise. But one of these days, little friend, some man will come along with a nature equal to your own, and in the division of the struggle you will find the happiness multiplied. That will be your chance to contribute your share to the real life which you will jointly live.”

“You have remembered what I said that first time we walked home from Mr. Hamlen's!”

“I shall always remember it. From it I first learned the depth and beauty of your womanhood.”

“Please, Mr. Huntington—” she begged deprecatingly; but her companion saw no reason to recall the words.

On the second morning the passengers came up on deck in anticipation of landing in the afternoon. Even Edith Stevens had passed through the ordeal without the fatal results she had predicted. Cosden seized the first opportunity for a final word of reconciliation.

“Don't give me up,” he urged. “I've learned a lot of things down here, and I appreciate what you have done for me more than I have shown. I'm going to do a bit of sandpapering when I get home, and I want you to let me run in to see you once in a while in New York, just to report progress.”

And Edith, either because after her experiences she felt too weak to combat him, or because she thought he needed encouragement, ingloriously capitulated.

The final good-byes were said on the dock, after the customs officials had completed their inspection.

“Of course we'll see you in New York now and then,” Mrs. Thatcher said to the two men; “and when we open up at the shore we must plan a real reunion.”

“I shall hope to have Hamlen here by then,” Huntington remarked.

“You are more optimistic than I; but in the mean time I shall be eager to receive news of him through you.”

“Drop in at the office next time you're in town, Cosden,” said Thatcher; “we'll talk over Consolidated Machinery and the Bermuda Trolleys.”

“I'm thinking of getting out of business altogether, to devote myself to art,” was Cosden's enigmatical reply; but the expression on Edith Stevens' face showed that at least she understood.

XXII

       * * * * *

Nearly a month passed after their return to Boston before Huntington and Cosden really saw anything of each other. They met casually, they telephoned, they lunched in company with other friends at down-town clubs, but neither one suggested an old-time getting together, and each felt relieved by the omission of the other. Yet the reason each man held for this feeling, had he openly acknowledged it, was as opposed to the other's as were the characteristics of the men themselves. Huntington craved nothing so much as an opportunity to be alone, that he might review the extraordinary happenings of the past few weeks and thus fortify himself sufficiently to prevent any lapse from what he knew to be his duty; Cosden required a return to his usual feverish business activity in order to digest his new ideas. Huntington remembered the wonderful sunshine and the fragrant flowers, in the midst of which he always saw a sweetly serious face peering out at him in spite of his efforts at banishment; Cosden forgot everything except that he had been shown up to himself in a light which demanded immediate and drastic consideration. To both men the weeks just ended, including those which had elapsed since their return had been epoch-making. But self-confidence revives with time, however great a shock it may receive and when Huntington finally invited his friend to dine with him Cosden found himself quite ready to accept.

This first meeting was more formal than any which had taken place during the many years of their acquaintance. Cosden often spoke of the relief it was to him to be permitted to drop in at his friend's house in such an intimate way,—without “fussing up,” as he expressed it; now he appeared in his dinner-coat, dressed as immaculately as Huntington himself always was. His manner was more contained, and even though it was evident that his restraint was studied Huntington was interested and pleased to observe that as yet, at all events, the influence of the Bermuda experiences made itself felt.

“Well, Monty,” Cosden said as he lifted his cocktail-glass, “I'm glad to be aboard again. I've been associating a good deal lately with a fellow named Conover Cosden, and I must admit he bores me. Let's have this and then a little dividend just for good luck.—By the way, I saw you at the Symphony last night.”

“At the Symphony?” Huntington echoed surprised. “You don't mean to say—”

“Oh, yes, I do!” he laughed rather consciously. “Not that it means much to me yet, but I've reached a point where I can call it an orchestra instead of a band, anyway. Mighty fine concert, wasn't it? I know I'm right, for I read the criticism in the paper this morning.”

“How long are you going to keep this up?”

“To the bitter end!” Cosden declared dramatically. “If music has charms to calm the savage beast now is its chance to demonstrate! That isn't all, but you wouldn't believe any more. As a matter of fact I'm taking in everything which begins with H for fear I may miss some one of those 'humanities'!”

Huntington gazed at him in sheer amazement.

“That's right,” Cosden emphasized, only slightly embarrassed by the expression of incredulity on his friend's face. “Instead of being merely a 'sow's ear' I'm going the whole hog, and so far I've managed to pull through without casualties. Now what do you and Edith Stevens think of your handiwork!”

“By Jove, Connie!” Huntington exclaimed feelingly, “it's wonderful, and I congratulate you. I had no idea—”

“Other than that I would remain without those 'finer instincts' all my life,” he finished for him. “Well, maybe I will, even at that; but at all events I'm giving the whole thing the once over. If my health and strength hold out perhaps when you and I make another vacation trip together you won't be mortified by your friend as you were last time.”

“Nonsense, Connie!” Huntington protested. “We both got out a little beyond our depth down there, and things didn't look quite normal to us.”

“Both?” Cosden demanded. “Where do you come in? That was my party, if I remember correctly, and I got all the presents.”

Huntington for the moment had been forgetful that he alone knew how much the Bermuda days had disturbed his own equilibrium, and he recognized that he had been almost guilty of betraying himself.

“Well,” he said lightly, “I interjected myself into your affairs in a shameless fashion, so whatever blame there is I insist on taking my full share.—What you tell me is simply incredible!”

“Don't give me too much credit for it yet. Like everything else in my life there's a selfish motive back of it. Edith Stevens never said a truer thing than that it is a different matter making light of something which you have and something which you lack. Measuring things up on this basis shows me that nearly every time I've opened my mouth I've put my foot in it. Now I'm going to play safe and make myself very, very wise on some subjects regarding which I've been a bit of a scoffer. Then, if I don't want to, I won't do them, but never again because I can't do them!”

“You needn't be ashamed of your motive; many a man has had one less worthy. But what is your business doing all this time?”

“Well, well, well!” Cosden laughed. “Good old Monty! We've been together nearly an hour, and you are the first to mention business! You wouldn't have believed I could go as long as that without speaking of it, would you? But let me tell you I have them all guessing down at the office. I can see it every day. Of course, I'm keeping my eye on things as much as ever, but I'm not making so much noise about it. You see this is something I have, so I can afford to treat it lightly. Now I have something to measure myself by, and it helps a lot.—But don't let us spend all the time talking about me; what have you been doing with yourself?”

“Drifting, as usual,” Huntington replied, regretting that the conversation turned on him; “wishing I might take twenty years off my life and begin over again.”

“Why, Monty! You say that so seriously I really believe you mean it! What's happened? It isn't like you.”

“Nothing, dear boy, nothing at all,” Huntington disclaimed quickly, trying to throw off the mood which had so promptly attracted his friend's attention. “I've seen quite a bit of Billy and his friend Phil Thatcher since I came home, and—I envy them their youth.”

Cosden looked at him long and searchingly before he spoke. “You're in a curious mood to-night,” he said at length. “During the years I've known you I've never before seen you other than a philosopher, taking life day by day as you found it, and getting all there was out of it.”

“What is philosophy unless one can find the stone?” Huntington exclaimed with feeling. “It is the philosopher's stone I want to-night, and I can't get it. I'm feeling my age, Connie, and the sensation isn't agreeable.”

“Your age!” Cosden determined to overpower the surprising obsession. “The idea of talking age at forty-five! Out with it, man! Tell me what has taken hold of you. I've left you too much by yourself lately, and it hasn't been a good thing for you.”

“That's it, Connie,” Huntington smiled weakly. “You mustn't do it again. First you take the heart out of me by declaring that you are going to get married, then you cheer me up by becoming normal again, and lastly you neglect me just as if you had taken the fatal step after all.”

“That's better,” Cosden said, rising from his dessert and putting his arm around his friend's shoulders. “Come on up-stairs and we'll gossip over our cigars like two old cats. It won't be long before we can get out on the links again, and then you'll forget that you have any age at all. Age! the idea! Why, Monty, you and I have only just begun to live!”

Arm in arm they walked slowly to the library in silence, but each one wondered at the new characteristic he had discovered in the other. Huntington was touched by Cosden's show of affection, the first time he had ever seen it manifested; Cosden marveled at the first break he had ever seen in his friend's self-possession. However easy-going Huntington might be, he always held himself well in hand; and Cosden envied him this trait. Huntington knew Cosden to be kind-hearted, but believed him to consider any outward demonstration as an evidence of weakness. The mutual discovery, surprising as it was, drew them closer together, and each realized that whatever had been the means a change had come in their relations which placed their friendship on a higher plane.

“There's something deeper in this than appears on the surface,” Cosden declared insistently as he held the light for Huntington and then lit his own cigar. “You said down-stairs that we both got out beyond our depth at Bermuda, and perhaps you meant more than I realized. Then, when we met the Thatchers, it developed that you and Mrs. Thatcher had known each other years ago. Now, tell me, is there any association between these two ideas, and is this by chance the explanation of the changed Monty I find here to-night?”

Huntington did not reply at once. He was annoyed with himself that he had uncovered so much of his heart, and he had been pondering how to extricate himself from the delicate position. Under no circumstances must Cosden or any one else know how deep an impression Merry Thatcher had made upon him. The first duty he owed to her was to stand before the world simply as a devoted, older friend; his duty to himself was to prevent his associates from discovering how many kinds of fool he was to permit any such ridiculous condition to arise as that which at present existed. Now Cosden had unconsciously shown him the way out.

“Yes, Connie,” he replied calmly; “there is an association which may be made of those ideas, and since you have spoken of it I will ask you to stand by me at the finish. There is something I have intended to do ever since I came home, but I lacked the courage; now you have given it to me.”

Huntington rose abruptly, and crossing to the opposite side of the library he lifted the little mahogany table which stood there, placing it before the fire in front of the easy-chair from which he had just risen. Then he seated himself, and taking from his pocket the key to the small drawer he turned it in the lock. Cosden watched him with an interest far deeper than curiosity, for he felt from his friend's manner that the turning of the key unlocked something within him which until that moment had been closely hidden.

“It will be better to get it out of my system,” Huntington said finally, after bringing all the accessories together.—“You never knew of my romance, did you?”

“Never,” Cosden acknowledged; “I supposed you were the one man who had passed through life unscathed.”

“I couldn't have told you of it before because you wouldn't have understood, but now you will appreciate matters better if you know the facts.—Do you remember my surprise when you first mentioned the name of Marian Thatcher?”

“Why, yes; you asked if she was a widow.”

“Exactly. Mrs. Thatcher was Marian Seymour when I first met her, my senior year at college. There is no need to go into particulars; the fact remains that I was hard hit.—Look at these!”

He pulled out the drawer and laid the various exhibits on the top of the table. Cosden leaned forward and gingerly lifted the long white glove, looking into Huntington's face with a curious expression as he did so. Huntington met his gaze squarely, nodding his head in affirmation of the unasked question.

“What's this?” Cosden demanded, laying down the glove and picking up the slipper.

“You see,” was the unabashed reply; “it went as deep as that. Laugh if you like; I sha'n't mind. We'll clean up this whole business to-night, and the more ridiculous you make it the shorter work it will be.”

“I would have laughed a month ago,” Cosden admitted; “but, as you say, I understand some things now that I didn't before. Every man has a right to a romance, and he's entitled to have it respected.”

“Thanks, dear boy; but romances don't belong to five-and-forty, and this farce has gone far enough. Now we'll watch it go up in smoke, as most romances do. But first let us pay it befitting honor.”

Dixon appeared in response to the bell.

“A bottle of Moet & Chandon, '98,” Huntington ordered.

During the time required by Dixon the two men puffed silently at their cigars. Huntington feared lest some inopportune word might disturb the success of his stratagem; Cosden, believing that he was witnessing the final act in the tragedy of his friend's life, respected the solemnity of the occasion.

“Now, Connie,” Huntington rose with the glass in his hand, “I ask you to drink to the dearest girl in the world, past, present and future,—to Marian Thatcher, God bless her!”

“To Marian Thatcher—God bless her!” Cosden repeated after him; and Huntington turned away to chuckle to himself that he had paid homage to the reality while his friend believed him to be giving tribute to the figment. He blessed the figment for bestowing her name upon the reality!

“Now for the renunciation,” Huntington said solemnly, and one by one he laid the long-cherished trophies upon the fire, watching in silence their reduction to the elements. His success filled him with a spirit of bravado. The opportunity might never come again.

“Once again, Connie old boy!” he cried.

He held out his disengaged hand and grasped Cosden's as he lifted his refilled glass.

“To Marian Thatcher—God bless her!”

Cosden still held his glass after his friend placed his on the table.

“Would it seem a sacrilege if I asked you to join me in a toast?” he asked, with an unnatural hesitation in his voice.

“Why,—no,” Huntington said wonderingly. “Fill up the glasses again.”

Then he held his high, waiting for his friend to speak.

“To Edith Stevens,” Cosden finally blurted out,—“God bless her!”

“Edith Stevens!” Huntington almost choked in his surprise. “You don't mean—”

“I don't know what I mean,” Cosden admitted, blushing furiously; “but I miss her like blazes, and I'm either in love or else I'm suffering from a new disease the doctors haven't named!”

XXIII

       * * * * *

The letter postmarked “New York,” announcing Hamlen's arrival, did not take Huntington by surprise, but it fulfilled his expectations sooner than he expected. The desirability of making certain changes in investments, the letter explained, made it necessary for Hamlen to come to the States, and if his classmate's invitation to Boston still held good he would be glad to avail himself of the opportunity to renew their friendship.

This announcement found Huntington in the introspective mood which had alarmed Cosden, and suggested a comparison in which he placed himself under the microscope for a mercilessly minute analysis. Hamlen was convinced that he had made a failure of life, but what had he, Huntington demanded of himself, accomplished which could entitle him to claim success? He had not separated himself from his fellow-men, it was true, he had been a decent citizen, performing such duties as came to him with faithfulness and ability,—yet what had he really contributed to the community or to the life in which he lived which made it better because he had been a part of it? He had created nothing, nor even made an effort to create. No painting bore his signature; no volume added his contribution to the world's knowledge on any subject; no philanthropic or business enterprise owed its inception to his initiative; no child of his was growing up to bear its share in the struggle of to-morrow or to bless his memory for parental sacrifice and guidance. Hamlen at least had given himself to the world in the wonderful volumes which would live after him, even though their creator's identity never was disclosed. Hamlen at least had made the flowers and the shrubs of his island estate bear witness to the power within him which refused to be restrained; but Huntington's labors, if he could dignify them by so serious a name, had been perfunctory at best. He was rich in the world's goods and in human friendships, he was respected by all who knew him. For what? he demanded: because his grandfather and his father before him had created, and had played their part so well in the developing life of the city of their birth that a luster had been given to the family name. His virtues were wholly negative; his was a reflected glory and undeserved. The position in the community which Huntington knew himself to occupy, and the fact that Hamlen, because of his exile, would be considered to have forfeited his position, struck him as a commentary on the value of popular esteem and the lack of proportion in accrediting to each individual what was his proper due.

Hamlen had nothing to his credit in the columns where Huntington scored heaviest: he was a poor citizen in his relations to those around him; he took no part in making others happier for his companionship or stronger by his example; his life had always been pointed inward, and yet, even with the limitations needlessly imposed upon it, there had been something within him, which Huntington had never felt within himself, great enough and strong enough to rise superior to these limitations, to burst the bonds by which Hamlen had sought to hold it back, and to force the expression of its own individuality! There, at least, was something positive; and yet the world would have called Huntington a success and Hamlen a failure! “We have torn off the bandages too fast,” Huntington had complacently told Hamlen on that eventful first visit. Was it not presumption on his part when until now his own vision had been equally restricted? Huntington's first impulse was to make a frank admission, when Hamlen arrived, of the wide divergence between what people credited to him and what his real position ought to be; then he realized that his friend needed some one to look up to. He must, for a time at least, accept the position, however ironical it seemed; but he felt himself an impostor and a fraud.

Since his return home Huntington had been more than ever grateful for the diverting influence of Billy's irresponsibility, and he encouraged him to come frequently to the house and to bring his friends with him. He would not have believed that a two months' absence could produce so momentous a change of his entire viewpoint. The calm tranquillity in his mental equipoise was seriously disturbed, and he welcomed anything which took his mind off himself and his personal affairs.

He had urged Billy to bring young Thatcher in to dine with him, for in view of what Marian had said he hoped that Hamlen and the boy would make good with each other when once they met. Thus far Billy had always selected an evening when Huntington was engaged, but with the certainty that Hamlen would soon arrive a special effort produced a mutually convenient date, and the two boys appeared eager for their dinner and obviously ready to be entertained.

Philip Thatcher carried himself better than his friend, and seemed older. His work on the crew had developed his frame and given him a poise which does not come to those college students who watch athletic sports from the side-lines. He had represented his university in competition, and this responsibility showed itself to his advantage. Those same “animal spirits” which gave Billy his boyish manner found a natural outlet, in Philip's case, during the hours of physical athletic training. His face was more his father's than like Mrs. Thatcher's; yet at times Huntington discovered expressions or mannerisms resembling his sister, which was enough to add to the interest he had already taken in the boy.

“Hello, Uncle Monty!” Billy announced their arrival. “We've come in to eat ourselves out of shape.”

When this operation had been performed, and the coffee period took them back to the library, Huntington settled down to the real purpose of the evening.

“Philip,” he said, “there is a man coming to visit me next week whom I want you to know and who wants to know you. He is an unusual character. I wish you would show him something of what Harvard life is to-day, and when you get acquainted tell me what you think of him.”

“I should be glad to meet any friend of yours, Mr. Huntington,” the boy answered.

“He has a greater claim on you than simply as my friend,” Huntington continued. “He was also a friend of your mother's, years ago, and while we were in Bermuda he showed us all a great deal of attention. He lives there.”

“You mean that Hamlen chap?” Billy asked. “Is he really coming here? He's a dead one!”

“Don't let Billy's remarks prejudice you, Philip,” Huntington urged. “Hamlen is a classmate of mine who has passed through some unfortunate experiences. He has lived by himself ever since he graduated, seeing hardly any one, and he will find much that is unusual when he returns to Boston and Cambridge after his long exile. He is a real man, Philip, and I want you to help me bring him back into the present again. Will you do it?”

“I'll try,—gladly,” was the hearty answer. “It sounds like a pretty big contract, but if I can really help I shall be glad to do it.”

“I know you will,” Huntington said; “I was sure of it.”

“Why don't you ask me?” Billy demanded. “Why go out of the family?”

“You may come into it later, but I want his first impressions to be favorable.”

“Stung!” Billy cried, laughing. “But I don't care. I don't care what happens now, for Phil has asked me to spend the Easter recess with him in New York, and I shall see Merry again.”

“So it is still 'Merry,' is it?” Huntington asked, looking at him with an expression which any one other than a boy would have noticed. “By this time I thought there might have been a dozen others.”

“Merry is still the one best bet,” Billy insisted. “Phil here doesn't know what a cinch it is to have a sister like that.”

“I believe it's because of Merry that you like me,” Phil declared, half seriously.

“Well,” Billy said guardedly, “it may have been the fact that you were her brother that first attracted me—”

“Why, you never saw her until we'd known each other several months—”

“We were acquainted before that,” was the admission; “but I really came to know you after you introduced me to her. That, Phil, was the best thing you ever did. It was after I met Merry that I discovered that you were the finest old scout in the world.”

“You make me tired!” Philip answered disgustedly. “I never saw any one so crazy over a girl. There are lots of other things in the world, Billy, besides girls. I'd hate to think of getting engaged up and having to train around with just one girl all my life.”

“That's because you can't marry Merry,—she's your sister.”

“I don't make any exceptions,—Merry's just a girl, like the rest of them.”

“You don't appreciate her, that's all.”

“Oh, Merry is all right, of course. She and I have always been good pals, and we've played together like two boys. She'd make any one a good wife if he didn't mind being bossed.”

Huntington listened to the tilt between the boys with amusement, and yet with a real feeling of envy. What riches these youths possessed with life all before them, its mysteries still unexplained, its illusions still unshattered!

“I thought your sister the finest girl I ever met,” he said to Philip, curious to see what response the boy would make.

“Oh, she wouldn't show that side to you,” Philip replied; “it's only with people her own age.”

Huntington winced. There it was again, and again he had brought it upon himself! To these boys he seemed an antique fossil of humanity, entitled to respect and veneration! He must appear the same to her. “People of her own age,”—of course, that was the natural thing as it would appear to any one. Again he cursed himself inwardly for being fool enough deliberately to open up the wound.

Billy was delighted to hear his uncle's comment on the girl, and beamed contentedly.

“You see, Phil,” he said, “even Uncle Monty noticed what a corker she is, and usually he never looks at a girl twice. Uncle Monty is a cynic on marriage, a woman-hater and all that sort of thing. Yet even he noticed Merry.”

“Don't say that, Billy!” Huntington protested with unusual vehemence.

“But you are,” the boy insisted. “The last time I dined here with you and Mr. Cosden, before you went to Bermuda, I heard you tell him that many a married man who seemed contented was only resigned.”

“That doesn't mean that I'm a 'woman-hater'; I won't stand for it! Be careful what you say!”

Billy looked at him in amazement. It was a rare thing to see his uncle ruffled.

“I beg your pardon, Uncle Monty,” he apologized. “I didn't intend to bump any one's feelings. Truly I wasn't joshing at all,—I thought you meant it! But I'm glad you didn't, for now you'll be more sympathetic with me, and you can help me a lot.”

“All right, boy,” Huntington said soberly. “I know you didn't mean anything by what you said, but marriage is a mighty sacred thing and you ought not to speak lightly of it.”

“How's Mr. Cosden?” Billy asked, eager to get the conversation onto safer grounds.

“Well and happy; he dined with me last week.”

“Say, but he can ride a bicycle!—What did he have against me down at Bermuda?”

“He said you covered too much territory.”

“I don't see where I got in his way, but he was forever butting in on Merry and me. And the way he hustled me off in that little speed-boat! I never had any one take such an interest in my getting back to college on time! That must have cost him quite a bit of kale. I can't understand it.”

“It was because he is so good a friend of mine,” Huntington explained. “He saw a youngster down there who flopped around like a big St. Bernard pup”—Huntington was gratified that his memory still retained Merry's simile,—“and he served the best interests of his friend by keeping you from making a mistake on your latest flop. Doesn't that clear things up?”

“As clear as mud,” Billy grunted. “I guess I need one of those glass-bottomed boats they use down there to see the spinach and the gold-fish. I could see the gold-fish all right, but the spinach was on me.—That reminds me, Uncle Monty, will you lend me a hundred dollars?”

“For what, this time?”

“I want to lend it to Phil,—he's broke because his father has cut down his allowance.”

“Billy!” Philip cried aghast; “I told you that in confidence. I wouldn't think of borrowing money from Mr. Huntington.”

“How in the world do you expect to get a hundred dollars out of me unless I land Uncle Monty for it?—and he asked, 'for what?' You heard him.”

“It's all right, Phil,” Huntington said reassuringly. “Billy doesn't have any secrets from me because he can't keep them. I would much rather lend the money to you than to him.”

“That isn't fair,” Billy protested. “Phil is sure to pay it back, and I need it.”

“I don't know what has happened,” Philip explained without paying any attention to what his friend was trying to say, “but all of a sudden Dad wrote that I must cut my expenses in two. That's a hard thing to do in a minute, and I don't see why I should do it anyway, for Dad has all kinds of money.”

“These are hard times in Wall Street, my boy,” Huntington answered him, “and many a rich man's son has to cut his corners. If your father has written you that I advise you to follow his instructions. He isn't a man to say it unless he means it.—I'll gladly help you out while you're getting adjusted.”

“Thank you, Mr. Huntington, but perhaps I won't need it. Even cut in two my allowance is bigger than most of the boys'.”

“Fathers are so inconsiderate,” Billy yawned; “very few of them understand their sons.”

“A paraphrase of the old saw, Billy,” Huntington commented. “To-day we would say that it is a wise stock which knows its own par.”

“Or a wise corn which knows its own popper,” laughed Billy.

“Or a wise beast which knows its own fodder,” Philip added,—“now we're all even!”

“Speaking of fodder,” Billy said, showing renewed signs of life, “let's go down to the Copley-Plaza and get something to eat.”

“After the dinner you ate?” Huntington demanded.

“That was over two hours ago, and I'm as hollow as a tin can. Come on, Phil.”

“You can't be serious, Billy,” insisted Huntington.

“I sure am. Whenever I get a real square feed I have a pain, and to-night I've felt perfectly comfortable.”

“All right, go on if you feel that way,” his uncle replied. “Take him away, Phil, and let him stuff himself until he has a pain! I'll let you know when Hamlen arrives, and then I'll count on you to help me out.

“Better include me,” Billy insisted.

“The next time I ask you to dine with me, young man, I'll thank you to get filled up at the hotel first!”

XXIV

       * * * * *

The Stevenses, brother and sister, lived together in the old family mansion in Washington Square. The income from the property left behind by the elder members of the family would have been ample if Richard had contributed even a modest amount as a result of his daily exertion; but as exertion had never proved one of Ricky's strong points, except in opposition to his sister's efforts to bully him into business, Edith was forced to practise many economies to make the divided sum serve her requirements.

“If you ever showed half the ability after you got into business that you do in keeping out of it, you'd make a howling success,” she told him; yet in spite of her perennial resentment she made many personal sacrifices to enable her brother to lead his aimless existence. They were a curious combination of selfishness and generosity, each going to extremes in both. Each criticised the other in unstinted terms, yet underneath it all lay an affection which would have carried either through fire and brimstone had the other required it.

Richard Stevens still kept up his social activities, but Edith moved in a smaller and quieter circle made up of old-time friends. She knew she could not compete, in these days of extravagant entertainment, and unless she could repay her social obligations in kind she preferred not to accept. She could not have everything she wished, so she selected what she believed contributed most to her happiness and peace of mind. All this had been carefully considered, and having been thus settled she philosophically accepted conditions as they were. She exacted much from her brother by way of attention, and he responded willingly, still finding ample leisure outside her demands to live his own life in a manner which satisfied himself.

It was the morning after one of Richard's off nights, when Edith sat leisurely finishing her late breakfast and reading the head-lines in the morning paper, that her brother put in his belated appearance.

“Morning, Ricky,” she greeted him cheerfully. “Up for all day?”

“I think so,” was the doubtful answer. “I'm awfully tired. I'd have been down sooner except that I couldn't decide whether to stay in bed until lunchtime and give up my breakfast, or get up and have my breakfast and give up my rest. Even now I believe I made a mistake, for I'm awfully tired and I don't feel hungry.”

“You might go back to bed again,” Edith suggested helpfully.

“No; I'm dressed now, and that would be too much trouble.—I think I'll make my breakfast off a jolly little bottle of Celestin.”

Edith laughed. “Too much wine last night, Ricky?”

Stevens made a wry face. “I'll have to give up dancing or drinking, one or the other,” he said emphatically; “it isn't scientific. Wine should be allowed to stand in the stomach just as it ought to stand in the bottle. This idea of churning it up by dancing is all wrong. I'd rather dance while I'm dancing and drink while I'm drinking; but every one else wants to do both things at the same time. It's all wrong.—That Celestin has a beastly bad taste this morning.” He examined the bottle critically. “I was afraid the maid had brought me Hunyadi by mistake.”

“I was in at Marian's yesterday,” Edith remarked. “Mr. Hamlen has arrived, and she expects Philip and Billy Huntington at the house over Easter.”

“Has Hamlen been there yet? He's a melancholy sort,—about as cheerful as a hearse. Feeling as I do this morning I think I'd rather like to see him; but I hope to feel better soon.”

“No; he hasn't been there yet. Marian tried to get him out for dinner, but some other friends were to dine with her so he wouldn't come.”

“He's a queer one,—but that reminds me: that Cosden man is in town.”

“He is?” Edith exclaimed, arresting her coffee-cup on its way to her lips and poising it in mid-air. “Why didn't you tell me before?”

“I couldn't until now; it was only yesterday I saw him. He was much more civil than in Bermuda. Wanted to know about you and all that sort of thing. He's going to telephone you before he goes back.”

“Very kind of him, I'm sure,” Edith sniffed. “Perhaps I'll be in and perhaps I won't.”

“Well that's your affair; you needn't see him on my account. But if you were to ask me, I'd say he's not such a bad sort.”

“I didn't ask you, Ricky,” Edith said significantly, and Stevens, with precedent to guide him, refrained from further discussion of the topic.

Yet in spite of the snap in her eyes when she commented on Cosden's inquiry it so happened that she was in when he telephoned, and she was also at home, arrayed in her most fetching afternoon gown, when he called an hour later. Not that he would notice whether she wore gingham or alpaca, she told herself, but she owed it to her self-respect to appear her best.

She had expected to see Cosden in his business suit with bulky contracts and other papers bulging from his pockets, rushing in and out again like a hurricane; but instead she beheld him entirely at his ease in cutaway and silk hat, with immaculate grey spats over his patent-leather boots. He carried himself with an air quite different from that she had become familiar with in Bermuda, and the reception she had planned for him—brief, matter-of-fact and bristling with satire—required a certain modification.

“I wasn't looking for a social call,” Edith said guardedly after a non-committal greeting. “I thought perhaps you had some business matter to discuss.”

“Still unforgiving!” Cosden smiled. “What can I do to make you forgetful?”

“Of what?” Edith asked with well-feigned surprise.

“Then suppose we assume that you have forgotten.”

“Aren't you over here on business?”

“Yes; and pleasure, too. This is the pleasure.”

Her mystification was genuine. Was this the self-assertive, vivified piece of machinery she had known three months before? Cosden could but see her surprise and it pleased him.

“I told you I should find out what was the matter with me. Have I partially succeeded?”

“Yes,” she acknowledged frankly; “what did it?”

“Huntington and—you.”

“But you couldn't change like this in so short a time; no one could.”

“Most of it is probably on the surface,” he admitted cheerfully. “Underneath is the same Cosden branded with the ear-marks of his business. But I'm on my way, and if there's enough of a change to have you notice it, then there's hope!”

“Have you seen the Thatchers?” Edith asked, not knowing just how to answer him.

“I saw Mr. Thatcher yesterday. He asked me to dine with them to-night, but I thought I'd wait until next time I'm over. He says Mrs. Thatcher is planning to have our whole Bermuda party down at the shore in July. You will be there, of course?”

“If it's in July, I shall be. Marian has invited me to spend the month with her.”

“Good! that was one of the things I called to find out.”

“What are the others?”

“Whether you are forgiving and—forgetful.”

Edith laughed at the serious way he asked the question.

“Are you laughing at me or with me?” he demanded half in earnest.

“Why, I don't know what to make of you.”

“Make whatever you like,—it's in your hands!”

“But I feel we ought to become acquainted all over again.

“So do I; that is another one of the things I wanted to find out.—Will you dine with me to-night, and then go to the theater afterwards?”

“Why—” she hesitated.

“It's the best possible way to get acquainted over again,” he insisted.

“I'm not sure that I want to,” Edith retorted; “but I will admit that you've excited my curiosity.”

“That's something,” Cosden replied good-naturedly. “Why isn't an evening together the easiest way to satisfy it?”

“All right,” Edith said with sudden decision. “I really must know more about this.”

“The veneer may wear off before the evening is over.”

“That's what I'm thinking,” she answered frankly. “I'm wondering how deep it really goes.”

XXV

       * * * * *

Easter came to New York, as it did to other places, and with it came Billy Huntington and Philip to the Thatchers. “Always have something to radiate from,” some one once advised, “if only a fly-speck.” To Billy, Boston was the fly-speck, entirely satisfactory as a point of radiation but far too respectable, much too decorous, and altogether too near home to be associated with his idea of a good time. Billy's life had been running so long on high gear that the lower speeds had almost been forgotten. This was typical of the times rather than a suggestion that the boy himself exceeded the speed limit. It was the limit which insisted upon exceeding itself, and he simply extended his pace to keep up with everything around him,—the limit of yesterday kept becoming the commonplace of to-day.

In New York Billy always found the limit just enough ahead of what it was in Boston to give him the additional thrill which added zest to his life. The very atmosphere seemed charged with a different ozone, filled with microbes impelling incessant activity. Everything not already in motion seemed straining at its leash, impatient to dash forward at the earliest opportunity. No one ever seemed satisfied to where he was, but hurried onward to somewhere else or something different. It was the city of unrest but never of discontent, for the changing, kaleidoscopic conditions came as a result of a demand from those who had the price to pay. It fascinated Billy, as it fascinates its tens of thousands, and as he leaned back in the Thatchers' limousine, held up by the lines of traffic on Fifth Avenue, then dashing forward to make up for lost time between the intersecting streets, he turned his beaming face toward his friend and murmured contentedly, “This is the life!”

“The ride home gets worse every time I take it,” was Philip's comment. “If things keep on they will have to make the Avenue a double-decker street.”

“By that time New-Yorkers will ride home in their aeroplanes,” Billy replied. “You can't hold them down by a little thing like congestion.”

Billy loved it, and for him the car turned off the Avenue all too soon, in its final dash for the East Side. He wanted more time between his arrival at the Grand Central Station and his appearance at the Thatcher mansion to shake off what he felt to be his Boston provincialism, and to feel outwardly as well as inwardly the real New-Yorker which he craved to be.

“What are we doing to-night?” Billy asked as they drew near their destination.

“I wrote Dad to get tickets for some show. You said you wanted to see everything in town.”

“Great! Merry will go, won't she?”

“I don't know. I can manage Mother and Dad all right, but when it comes to Merry, that's different.”

“But she knows I'm coming—” Billy showed signs of feeling aggrieved.

“Oh, she'll probably go all right. Why fuss until we find out? But I don't think she's as crazy about you as you are about her.”

“Girls always conceal their real feelings,” Billy explained sagely.

“Perhaps,” Philip conceded very little; “but Merry isn't like most girls. Sometimes she seems about my own age and sometimes old enough to be my mother. But have it your own way; I should worry.”

The welcome was hearty enough to satisfy even Billy, so the pessimism of his friend was at once forgotten. Mrs. Thatcher opened her arms wide to both boys, while Merry, though less demonstrative, was equally cordial in her reception.

“I'm awfully glad to see you,” Billy said with a sincerity which could not be doubted, and grinning all over. “It seems ages since Mr. Cosden and Uncle Monty pushed me off the pier down at Bermuda.”

Merry laughed. “That was a splendid idea of yours, Billy, to miss the steamer, but I was afraid you couldn't work it.”

“S-ssh,” Billy placed a finger on his lips. “Don't ever breathe that where Uncle Monty could hear you! I've made him believe it was a real accident.”

“We're dining at seven, boys,” Mrs. Thatcher interrupted; “that will give us comfortable time to reach the theater.”

“Are we all going?” Phil asked.

“All but your father; he's feeling too tired to-night.”

“Dad's well, isn't he?” Philip demanded quickly.

“Yes,—but tired,” his mother answered. “He's all right. Now run along and dress or you'll be late for dinner.”

On his way up-stairs Philip stopped in his father's room. “Hello, Dad!” he cried, pushing the door open unceremoniously. “Why, Dad,—you're not well! Mother said you were only tired.”

Thatcher was sitting in front of the great, old-fashioned desk which Philip had associated with business and mystery since his childhood days, and when the door was unexpectedly thrown open it disclosed him resting his head upon his hands. The papers which Philip usually saw spread out on the desk were lacking, so the position his father had taken was the result of habit rather than present necessity. It was the expression on the elder man's face which forced the exclamation.

Thatcher rose quickly and stepped forward to greet his son. “Nonsense, boy! I'm all right,” he exclaimed with an effort to speak lightly which did not escape Philip; “I'm just tired, as your mother said.—I didn't hear you come in or I would have been down-stairs to meet you.”

“You're not all right,” Philip protested stoutly, still holding his father's hand and looking squarely into his face. “You don't need to do this with me, Dad; I'm a man now, and we ought to talk together like men.—Has this anything to do with what you wrote me about my allowance?”

“We'll discuss it in the morning, Phil,” Thatcher evaded. “Get dressed now, and later we'll talk things over like two men, as you say. It will help me to do that. Don't worry, boy; everything will come out all right.”

“That's a promise, Dad?”

“Yes; we'll put our heads together in the morning.”

Thatcher was as gay as the young people when they sat down to dinner, and entered into the enjoyment of the home-coming so heartily that Marian was relieved.

“All you needed, Harry, was to have Phil come home,” she said. “Couldn't you telephone for another ticket and go with us?”

“Not to-night; I have work to do. To-morrow Phil is going to lend a hand, and then perhaps we'll have some play together.—Tell us of your uncle, Billy.”

“Oh, Uncle Monty is all right,—except that he's become so terribly sober and serious. What did you people do to him down at Bermuda? He hasn't been the same since.”

“He was serious down there,” Merry asserted.

“Oh, he never was a cut-up, of course,” Billy explained; “but he was always saying things to make you laugh, and I could jolly him just as if he was one of the fellows.”

“Can't you do it now?” Mrs. Thatcher inquired.

“No; if I do he gets sore. Why, only the other night Phil and I went in there to dinner. I made some remark about his being a woman-hater, and he got huffed up in a minute. Didn't he, Phil?”

“Monty Huntington a woman-hater?” Mrs. Thatcher laughed. “No wonder he was 'huffed'!”

“But he never married, did he? Isn't that a sure sign that he's a woman-hater?”

“Oh, dear no!” Mrs. Thatcher insisted. “That may be taken quite as much as an evidence of his profoundest respect and veneration for woman. In fact, if fifty per cent. of the men who do marry would refrain from it no greater tribute could be paid us!”

The boy looked at her inquiringly. “Do all older people run marriage down like that?” he inquired. “Every time the subject comes up some one gives it a knock. With Uncle Monty, of course, it's sour grapes, because now he's so old no one would think of marrying him, but—”

“He's not so old,” Merry interrupted unexpectedly and with such force that Billy was taken by surprise.

“Oh, ho!” Billy cried. “So that's the way the land lies! Now you've said a mouthful. This is a case of mutual admiration! Uncle Monty told us the other night that you were the finest girl he ever saw.”

“He did!” Merry cried, the blood rushing into her cheeks and her face aglow with pleasure. “I wish I thought he really meant it!”

“He meant it all right,” Philip corroborated. “Mr. Huntington doesn't make mouth-bets. He was calling me down for saying that you were just like other girls.”

“Were you so ungallant as that?” Thatcher asked. “Whatever else happens, Phil, we must stand up for the family.”

“Of course,” he admitted; “but Billy was talking about Merry in superlatives as usual, and I was trying to quiet him down.”

“Phil is doing his best to put me in wrong again,” Billy protested. “Now I'll tell you just what happened and you can judge for yourselves: I was telling Uncle Monty how happy I was to be invited here for Easter, and how glad I should be to see you all—”

“You never said a word about any one but Merry,” Philip interrupted.

Billy looked vindictively at his friend and then smiled sheepishly.

“I meant all of you, of course. Then Phil tried to jolly me about caring for girls and for Merry in particular—”

“Don't be foolish, Billy!” Merry exclaimed.

“My! but it's hard to tell a story here, but I'm going to do it if I burst a blood-vessel! Uncle Monty agreed with me, and then said that Merry was the finest girl he ever saw. That from him is some praise, because he never cuts in on girls at all; but you've made a hit with him, Merry, and you might as well know it.”

“I'm glad he hasn't forgotten me,” she said quietly, but the color remained in her face after the conversation turned upon other topics.

“What I said a moment ago isn't 'knocking,' as you call it, Billy,” Mrs. Thatcher resumed; “it is experience. We older folk know from what we've seen, and from what we've been through, the dangers young people run during the inflammable age; so we sound the warning. You are at that age now, Billy, so your friends are trying to protect you. Philip apparently hasn't arrived there yet, but he will; and then we'll try to protect him from the idea that the 'only girl' is the one he happens to fancy while the period lasts.”

“You're making me look like a flivver!” the boy said with mortification in his voice; “and before Merry, too!”

“No, my dear; you mustn't take it that way. I'm talking no more freely than you have been. We consider you one of the family, so I'm speaking to you just as I would to Philip.”

Billy's face was fiery red, but he never flinched in his dogged determination.

“I don't care who knows how much I think of Merry,” he said defiantly. “You've spoiled my visit! I'm not a bit ashamed—”

“Forgive me, Billy,” she soothed him gently,—“of course you're not ashamed. I wouldn't speak to you like this if you weren't one of my own boys; but I do want you to realize that it is seldom that early fancies are more than impersonal idealizations. I'm glad you and Merry like each other, and I hope you will always be the best of friends; but, in applying our idealization to the one who at the moment comes nearest to the realization, a mistake is usually made because the one we are really looking for hasn't yet crossed our horizon.”

“Sometimes, perhaps,” Billy conceded; “but there are exceptions.”

Mrs. Thatcher smiled at his persistency. She liked the boy, and had seized on this opportunity to spare him the greater disappointment which she felt sure would come.

“Yes,” she answered kindly; “there are exceptions. I know of one in my own experience, but in this case it only made it more unfortunate. I knew a boy once who applied the idealization formed during the inflammable period to a girl who at that time thought she cared for him. Then her horizon broadened and she found and married the man she really loved; but the boy held on to his early ideal, becoming a recluse, embittered against the world and incapable of seeing that unless the ideal becomes a reality to both it can never safely amount to anything.”

Thatcher looked at his wife questioningly, and Merry's eyes also fastened themselves upon her mother's face. Marian's voice as much as her words disclosed more than she intended. As she paused Philip, supposing the conversation to be concluded, mentioned the name which was in each one's mind except the boys'.

“By the way, Mother,” he remarked, “Mr. Huntington wants me to meet a friend of his named Hamlen, who, he says, used to be a friend of yours.”

“Yes,” she said, looking up at him quickly,—“yes; I, too, wish you to meet Mr. Hamlen. He is in New York now. Perhaps you will see him before you return. I want you to know him well.”

As Thatcher assisted them in getting off to the theater, he managed to draw Marian one side.

“Hamlen's name is Philip, isn't it?” he asked.

She nodded, wondering at the question.

“Was that why you gave our boy the same name—and was it Hamlen you referred to just now?”

“Yes, Harry.”

He drew her gently to him and kissed her. “Poor chap!” he said. “If I had known that I would have made a greater effort to be friendly with him.”

XXVI

       * * * * *

During these depressed months Thatcher was not the only man of affairs who saw the successes of his career threatened with disaster as a result of the unnecessary burdens imposed by inexperienced and impractical officials at Washington. Business groaned aloud as destructive control and regulation delayed and paralyzed commerce. Labor, hand in hand with its new ally Theory, stalked abroad through the land, demanding shorter hours and increased wages, receiving recognition as a privileged class from those in authority, exempt from respecting others' rights, which is necessary to create and preserve responsibility: substance when it struck at Capital, shadow when Capital in self-defense struck back. The corporations which formed the pulse of the country's life were so harassed that they paused in their constructive energies, wondering what new menace would rise up before them, and yet were expected to give better service while bound hand and foot by unwise legislative restrictions, and burdened by unnecessary legislative demands for increased expenditure. Samson, shorn of his strength by the shears of a legalized Delilah, was expected to hold up with his enervated arms the pillars of the temple which “psychological” complacency was pulling down.

The first serious rumors reached Thatcher in Bermuda, and when he returned to his office his far-sighted perception told him that the business world was face to face with a real crisis. Many of his enterprises were in a condition where to pause in aggressive action meant going backwards, entailing loss upon all concerned; yet to proceed in the face of conditions as they were was to invite disaster and even to imperil the stability of his firm.

Cosden had felt the result of the depression in decreased business, but he did not realize as soon as Thatcher the far-reaching results inevitable from the new governmental policy. His horizon was local compared to that of the New York operator, and he regarded the conditions as a phase of business life, bound to appear once in so often, rather than a blow at the basis upon which the commercial world rested. He cut down his expenses in proportion to his reduced volume of business, strengthened his relations at his banks, and considered his sails trimmed to weather any storm.

Thatcher had invited him to call, and Cosden had no idea other than to make the most of the intimacy which had developed in Bermuda. More than that, the machinery matter they had touched upon had progressed even better than he expected. If Thatcher was still curious to learn more about the details the time had now come when he could safely be told. But to Cosden's surprise the subject was not once directly referred to during their interview. Thatcher was cordial and affable, seemingly interested in the general conversation and frank in his discussion of various topics which presented themselves, but, as it appeared to Cosden, strangely reticent upon certain specific subjects on which he would have been glad to draw him out. It was only when Cosden paused for a moment at the door of the private office that Thatcher made any remark which gave his visitor an insight as to what was in his mind.

“The full meaning of these present conditions evidently has not struck Boston yet,” he said. “Let me tell you that these are times when the wise man learns how to wait. Instead of blaming your customers who hesitate to give you the usual orders you should scrupulously investigate the credit of those who do.”

“I can wait,” Cosden said confidently. “I've always held myself back from spreading out too thin, and if there's a storm coming on top of this sloppy weather I'm fixed where I can meet it better perhaps than some others.”

“You are to be congratulated,” Thatcher told him with so much feeling that Cosden took it as a personal compliment and departed well satisfied with his interview.

When he next met Huntington in Boston they discussed this among other topics, and Cosden was surprised to have his friend ask him point-blank whether he had heard rumors regarding Thatcher's firm.

“You're dreaming, Monty,” he replied with conviction. “Thatcher is a man who makes money whichever way the market turns. That's what I admire so much in him. I only win out when things go one way, but he wins coming and going. What in the world put that idea in your head?”

The chance remark which Billy had made regarding the reduction in Philip's allowance was too much in the nature of a confidence to be repeated, but it had left Huntington with a definite impression that Thatcher must be feeling the conditions acutely or he would not have begun to curtail expenses at home. To a man who lived as Thatcher did, Huntington knew that this would be the hardest duty he would find to perform. Cosden's question was answered lightly.

“Wall Street is being hit hard,” he said. “I am hoping that so good a fellow as Thatcher won't be caught in the reaction.”

“Don't worry about that,” Cosden laughed. “You'll find when the sky clears that he has looked far enough ahead to make even the storm pay him tribute.”

“Hamlen arrives to-morrow,” Huntington remarked, changing the subject lest his question raise some doubts in Cosden's mind which might linger. “I shall give myself up to him a good deal while he is here, so you mustn't be surprised if you don't see as much of me as usual. He needs me more than you do.”

“That may be,” Cosden admitted, “but how about you? I have an idea that, with the peculiar state of mind you've been in lately, you will forget your overpowering sense of age better with me than you will with him.”

“Perhaps,” Huntington admitted, smiling; “but I must think of him first.”

“You don't mind my butting in on you both once in a while?”

“On the contrary; but I know how little you have in common with Hamlen. I'm afraid he may bore you.”

“You forget my reincarnation,” Cosden said dryly. “Who knows but that I was a professor of classical antiquities in my previous existence? If he bores me I'll cut out; but I've an idea that he can teach me a thing or two, and just now I'm keen on becoming educated.”

There was a marked restraint in Hamlen's manner when Huntington met him at the station and motored him to the Beacon Street house. His embarrassment and the all too obvious efforts he made to impress upon his friend the occasion of his leaving Bermuda would have convinced Huntington, if he had not already known, that the real reason was that which he had already anticipated in his prediction to Mrs. Thatcher. Yet no one but Hamlen knew the agony of loneliness he had experienced when, after watching the steamer disappear, he returned to his empty villa. No one but Hamlen knew of the struggle he had passed through in his efforts to readjust his life, or of the terror which came to him with the final realization that he could no longer find solace in the work which he had previously forced to absorb his waking hours.

It was this terror Huntington saw in his classmate's eyes which told him all that any one would ever know of the real tragedy. Hamlen looked years older,—his face was more sallow, his hair more grey. Huntington looked at him in pity, and felt apprehensive lest the task he had allotted to himself had been too long postponed. Then the thought came back to him, “He considers himself a failure and me a success!”

The welcome was such as to reassure Hamlen as much as anything could. Huntington made him feel as much at home as was possible for one whose mental poise was so sadly disordered. No special effort was made at conversation; everything was treated as a matter of course. Little by little Hamlen found himself, and as he spoke more freely Huntington entered into his spirit, but followed rather than led.

“It is a relief to get into this quieter atmosphere after New York,” Hamlen remarked after they had sat in silence for some moments at the table after dinner. “I felt as if I had been suddenly put down in a whirling maelstrom, and there wasn't a minute when I did not expect to be annihilated the next!”

Huntington laughed quietly. “A New-Yorker would consider that the most subtle compliment you could pay his city. It is not enough to have the stranger merely impressed; he must be appalled!”

Hamlen raised his hands in a silent gesture.

“Have you arranged your business matters to your satisfaction?” Huntington asked, rather by way of conversation than from curiosity.

“Yes,” Hamlen answered, but with a mental reservation which his friend noticed,—“yes; and yet even that wasn't as I expected.”

He paused a moment, gazing into the fire which Huntington had ordered lighted to take off the chill which the late Spring still left in the air.

“I am puzzled about it,” Hamlen continued. “You see, most of my investments have been in England, and it seemed to me that it would be wise to take advantage of an opportunity I had to realize on them, and to reinvest here in the States while everything is so much below its real value. Knowing Mr. Thatcher as I did I naturally went straight to him about it. He was most kind in advising me to hold off a while longer, as securities are likely to fall still further; but when I asked him to accept my money on deposit he declined, and offered instead to give me a letter of introduction to a bank.”

“Why, Thatcher's house does a large banking business.”

“That is what puzzles me; why should he decline my account?”

“I don't believe he meant just that,” Huntington explained; “he probably wanted you to understand that he was not looking for business from his friends.”

“No, he flatly refused to accept it; for I tried to insist upon it. I know few people here now, and I didn't feel like entrusting so considerable a sum to any institution, however well recommended, without personal acquaintance with some of its officers.”

“I don't understand it.”

“Nor I. Of course, I had no alternative, so I deposited it in the bank Thatcher suggested.”

“Did you see much of the family while you were in New York?” Huntington queried.

Hamlen looked up quickly, with a return of the apprehensive expression his face had worn earlier.

“I saw them several times,” he said. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he added: “Later, you must let me impose still further upon your friendship. I have no one else to counsel me.”

Hamlen's voice was apologetic.

“I sha'n't consider that you accept my friendship at its par value unless you call upon me in any way I can be of service to you.”

“Then perhaps you won't mind if I speak now,” Hamlen responded eagerly. “It really has been preying upon me until I am unfitted for anything else. It would be a relief to share it.”

After saying this Hamlen found it more difficult to continue. “You probably don't know,” he said at length, “that Mrs. Thatcher and I knew each other intimately years ago.”

“Yes,” Huntington acknowledged frankly; “Mrs. Thatcher told me, while we were in Bermuda.”

Hamlen was relieved. “It was a very close intimacy,” he continued. “I feel that perhaps I ought to be guided by her judgment now, yet I find it difficult to accept for many reasons. In short, she thinks that I should marry.”

During the last few moments Huntington had anticipated this announcement, but he refrained from making comment. Hamlen looked over at him for a word of encouragement, but as none came he went on.

“I know myself to be entirely unfitted, and it is the last thing in the world I should have thought of; but lately I have mistrusted my own judgment, which leaves me absolutely without a guide of any kind. So when any one I respect as I do Mrs. Thatcher makes such a statement, and even suggests the possibility of my marrying her own daughter, I don't know what to do. I can't believe that the girl would consider me as a husband, yet Marian is confident that if it could be arranged it would be for the happiness of all concerned.”

“Are you fond of Merry?” Huntington demanded.

“As Marian's daughter, yes. I admire her tremendously, for in some ways she reminds me of her mother. But what in the world have I to offer her?”

“What has any man to offer the woman he marries,” Huntington replied with feeling, “in comparison to what she brings into his life? He stakes nothing but his liberty; she stakes her future as well as her present.”

“I know; but what do you advise me to do?”

“Has it occurred to you that Mrs. Thatcher is assuming a great responsibility in pledging her daughter's consent?”

“Yes; I am afraid her influence over the girl is as strong as it is over me. She is a very magnetic woman.”

“Do you mean that you question your own strength?”

“That is exactly what I mean,” he answered, dropping his eyes.

“My promise of assistance was an empty one, after all,” Huntington said with more bitterness than had ever before crept into his voice. “The alchemy of a woman's heart is past the comprehension of a bachelor like myself. But why settle your problem so hastily? You are here with me now, and what I intend to show you of life will fit you better than anything else to answer that question for yourself. Don't let it overwhelm you. See how far you can enter into what goes on about you, and then draw your conclusions regarding the probabilities of the future.”

“Are marriages ever successful when one's heart is made up of burnt ashes?”

“Don't ask me that, my friend!” Huntington begged. “You and I have reached an age where we are entitled to use logic and judgment, and to live the years which remain to us as those two attributes may dictate. For the next few weeks I want you to imagine that you are back in college again, with no responsibilities heavier than that of enjoying yourself better than before because your sense of proportion has been developed by experience. When these weeks are past, we may again consider whether our hearts are made up of burnt ashes or of rich Harvard crimson blood. Until then, my friend, let us steadfastly refuse to be stampeded, and claim the benefit of every doubt.”

XXVII

       * * * * *

Philip Thatcher responded to the suggestion made by Huntington and his mother with such conspicuous success that within a fortnight Hamlen accepted his leadership from one experience to another with wonderment and devotion. The fact that the boy was his namesake formed the first bond, and with confidence once established intimacy developed rapidly. Boys to Hamlen had been unknown quantities, creatures to be endured if necessary but avoided if possible, and Philip did much to raise the standard of his genus in the older man's mind. Billy's explosive outbursts startled him for a time, but he learned to understand even these, and accepted them at their true value.

The responsibility came to young Thatcher at just the time when he was best prepared to accept it. During the Easter recess his father suddenly discovered that the boy had become a man, and it was with real gratification that he took him into his confidence. To Philip, the statement of present conditions made impending disaster seem conclusive, and it was with difficulty that Thatcher persuaded him that many things might happen to ease the situation before calamity really overtook him. The boy wanted to leave college at once, and to throw himself into some sphere of business activity so that his income might be added to the family exchequer to keep the wolf from the door! His father, strengthened by the youthful loyalty and enthusiasm, pointed out the value, as a personal asset to himself, of actually possessing a college degree, now so nearly secured, and sent the boy back to Cambridge with a determination to make the most of the few remaining months in preparing himself to rush into the breach and save his family from the threatening malignant specters.

The whole experience was a sobering one to Philip, and resulted in putting him nearer on a plane with Hamlen. To the one, the world had already proved its unreliability; to the other, it was now on trial with every presumption of speedy conviction. Each event in the day took on a new significance in the boy's mind, and Hamlen's dependence made him feel that he was already man-grown, taking his place in the front rank of the battle of life.

Huntington watched these developments with a curious sensation of interest and surprise. The most he had hoped was that Philip might take the man far enough into undergraduate activities to give him by assimilation a fresh viewpoint, but he found his guest largely taken off his hands by one who was accomplishing the desired results far better than he himself could do. Day by day he saw Philip winning a deeper hold upon the affections of his older friend, and he marveled at the changes taking place in Hamlen. For himself, he quietly forced him to meet such of their classmates as were in Boston, preparing them by a brief outline of Hamlen's experiences to extend a fitting welcome; but he left it to Philip to show him what the new Harvard really is.

It was impossible to have all this happen without misgivings and questioning on the part of his guest.

“I appreciate all this,” Hamlen said to him one evening; “but don't for a minute think that I take credit for the sudden interest on the part of the fellows who never noticed me when I was in college. That belongs to you. With the position you had then, and which you hold in the Class to-day, the boys would drink healths and sing, 'For he's a jolly good fellow' to a Fiji islander if he happened to be your friend.”

“Suppose we grant all that,” Huntington answered frankly; “what difference does it make? Didn't you tell me that you owned a piece of land in Oklahoma on which oil was struck?”

“Yes,” Hamlen replied; surprised that his friend should so abruptly turn the conversation. “What has that to do with our discussion?”

“How much did you value it before you discovered what it contained?”

“It was a joke; I begrudged even paying the taxes.”

“Now you consider it well worth including among your investments?”

“Naturally. It is one of the best things I own.”

Huntington smiled at him quietly. “Don't you see the application? It is no reflection on those who walked over that land that they were ignorant of the riches which lay beneath their feet. It is no reflection on the sincerity of your classmates that they like you now and did not know you before. I discovered what you really are, Hamlen, quite as accidentally as you struck oil in that apparently worthless land in Oklahoma. Now I stand simply as the promoter of a property which has proved its worth.”

When Hamlen unpacked his trunk at Huntington's house he produced a volume of Milton's “Areopagitica” which he placed in his friend's hand.

“This is the latest issue from the 'Island Press,'“ he said. “It was nearly completed before you all came down to Bermuda and disturbed my peace of mind. I put the covers on after you left, but I haven't been able to produce a thing since. I believe this is the last book I shall ever make.”

Huntington turned the leaves with great interest. “Exquisite!” he exclaimed. “Quite the best example you have turned out. I love that type of yours, Hamlen, for I feel it is the exemplification of William Morris' definition of the Type Ideal,—'pure in form, severe without needless excrescences, solid without the thickening and thinning of the line, and not compressed laterally.' You have carried out what he set himself to do and failed. How many copies did you print?”

“Only fifty.”

“Splendid! But I am selfish enough to wish there was but one, and that I owned it! I never saw finer presswork in my life.”

“You may gratify your wish if you like,” Hamlen replied indifferently. “I have the whole lot in my trunk up-stairs, and you may destroy the other forty-nine if you choose. They are yours to do with as you will.”

“You don't mean it!” Huntington cried, enthusiastically.

He fondled the copy in his hand, and his face was lighted by the pleasure of the moment. Then he laughed.

“It is a frightful temptation, Hamlen! Think of owning the only copy in existence of a book like that! Bibliomania leads one on almost to crime, and it would be nothing less to prevent other collectors from enjoying this wonderful volume. I accept the gift proudly, Hamlen; I will make good use of it.”

At the next monthly gathering of his fellow-collectors in their attractive club-house Huntington took Hamlen with him as his guest. He introduced him to his friends, but made no reference to the fact that he was the creator of the productions of the Island Press. They listened to an interesting paper, and then seated themselves at the long supper-table to prove that even bibliomaniacs are human. Here Huntington adroitly turned the conversation upon the subject of Hamlen's work.

Huntington had told his friend that when once he heard the opinions of other collectors the words of praise spoken at Bermuda would seem mild; and the prediction proved true. Hamlen's cheeks burned as he heard his work extolled and himself compared to the master-printers of the past. There could be no doubt of the sincerity of the comment, for no one but Huntington knew his identity; and the pleasure he felt was so intense that it almost overcame him.

As the discussion waned Huntington made his dramatic play. Each member present was handed a copy of the “Areopagitica,” on the fly-leaf of which Hamlen had written his autograph.

“A gift from our guest,” Huntington explained; “and each copy is inscribed by the master-printer of the Island Press.”

The silence which followed heightened the effect of Huntington's coup, and Hamlen felt the blood rushing to his face. Huntington watched the proceedings with evident relish, and as comprehension followed surprise in the minds of his fellow-members he held his glass aloft.

“To the health, gentlemen, of Philip Hamlen, our master-printer, an American, thank God, who knows how to preserve that art preservative of all arts!”

It was the first triumph Hamlen had ever tasted, and as Huntington watched his face he feared that in the desire to give him the confidence of approval he had over-estimated his friend's physical strength. But joy never kills, and the first weakness was conquered by the necessity of living up to the position which had been thrust upon him. He responded bravely, and Huntington smiled contentedly as he saw still another barrier broken down between Philip Hamlen and the world he believed to be against him. On their way home no word was spoken in the motor-car, but when safe within the retreat of the library, which Hamlen had learned to love, the pent-up emotion burst forth.

“Then I have done something after all!” he cried. “My life has not been all a mistake! Heaven knows what a mess I've made of it, but at least there is something saved out of the wreck? You think they meant it, don't you, Huntington?” he asked beseechingly, and he found his answer in the beaming countenance of his friend. “I had no idea it would mean so much, that so wonderful an experience as I had to-night could ever come to me. Even now I can't understand it. Those little books are only expressions of myself; I made them merely for personal gratification.”

“In doing so, my friend, you gave yourself to us; and more than that no man can do!”

The wonderful weeks went by, filled with a bewildering series of unusual experiences for Hamlen and of continuing satisfaction to Huntington. Philip unfolded to him day by day the various elements which went to make the new Harvard spirit, and Huntington supplemented the boy's efforts by keeping his guest in touch with the graduate activities centered in and reaching their climax in the building of the “Home of the Harvard Club” in Boston, dedicated as “the tomb of Harvard indifference.” Hamlen saw the freshmen segregated in their own dormitories, and forced to become acquainted one with another, and he realized what it would have meant to him at a similar time in his life if heads wiser than his own had compelled him to show himself to his classmates. He stood within the massive Stadium, he went to a mass-meeting at the Harvard Union, he followed the crew on the Charles in the launch “John Harvard,” proud that Philip, his namesake, had won a place in the boat. He spent many hours at the Harvard Club with Huntington, watching the democracy which means unity, and the unity which means fellowship. For the first time he felt a pride to be a part of it, for the first time his degree stood to him as something more than what he learned from books. Philip was to row against Yale, and he felt that he himself, at last, was to take part in an intercollegiate contest, once the ambition of his life. He was no longer a man without a college, but was one of that great brotherhood which recognizes its heritage, and stands ready to live up to the responsibilities this heritage entails.

XXVIII

       * * * * *

Huntington placed his house at the disposal of the Thatchers during Class Day week, and urged them to arrive the Saturday before so that he might show them something of Boston before the college festivities set in. He had corresponded freely with Mrs. Thatcher during the weeks Hamlen had been his guest, sharing with her his own gratification that their joint undertaking proceeded with such promise of success. But each letter she wrote contained some reference to her desire to carry the rejuvenation to a climax.

“Don't let him get too young,” she wrote in one, “or Merry won't care for him. She always feels more at home with older men.”

In another, accepting Huntington's invitation, she added: “Your suggestion is particularly fortunate as it will give Merry a chance to see Philip Hamlen under ideal conditions.”

There was no escape. Mrs. Thatcher still assumed that he was as eager to bring about the match as she herself, and with woman's pertinacity presented the matter to him in such a way that he was forced to act as her ally whether he chose to do so or not. He had no restitution to make to his classmate, he stoutly assured himself, and because a charming woman felt a moral obligation to bring about “poetic justice” there was no reason why he should be stampeded into aiding and abetting a scheme of which he thoroughly disapproved. Huntington reasoned it out logically and conclusively, arrived at a definite determination to have no part in it, and then did the one thing which Mrs. Thatcher most desired by inviting them all to his home. Such is the innate inconsistency of man when he attempts to defeat the plans of a clever woman who always has her way!

Yet, curiously enough, Huntington believed that he was acting on his own initiative, and that this plot of his to have the girl near by, where he could again enjoy her companionship without betraying how much she had become to him, was a triumph of diplomatic genius. He even dreaded lest a refusal of his hospitality should defeat his carefully-laid plans, never realizing that the idea itself had come through the most delicate psychological suggestion between the lines of a letter which touched on every subject but the one in point. Such is the inevitable climax of man's originality when his plans include feminine co-operation!

Hamlen did not again refer to the matter on which he had sought advice until Huntington told him that the Thatchers were to arrive. Then his manner took on that phase which his host knew well, and the old apprehensiveness returned. The change was so noticeable that it could not be passed by without comment.

“Don't you want to see them?” Huntington demanded flatly. “You act as if their coming really frightened you.”

“It does,” Hamlen admitted frankly.

“Why should it?”

Huntington had come closely enough to him now to speak pointedly, and Hamlen seemed grateful for it. He wanted to be treated like other men, even though at times the new experience hurt; and his friend more and more took him at his word. “Why should it?” Huntington repeated.

“Because I can't trust myself yet. All is going so well that I fear something may happen to cause a setback.”

“Nonsense! The old dread of meeting people hasn't worn off yet, but you are making splendid strides. I shall be proud to have Mrs. Thatcher see you as you are now.”

“I am not myself when I am with her,” Hamlen insisted, avoiding his friend's eyes as he spoke.

“If you prefer, I'll put you up at the Club while they're here.”

“I should prefer it; but I think I had better fight it out while I have you near at hand to help me.”

There was a new note of determination in his voice, but the dread was still there. “I do not want to marry Miss Thatcher, Huntington,” he said slowly, with emphasis on every word; “yet unless you help me I shall do it. I cannot resist Mrs. Thatcher if she is determined to accomplish this. You spoke of logic and judgment when we talked of it before, but these are not enough. Marian is a wonderful woman. She believes that this marriage will be for our happiness, but I tell you, Huntington, it would be a tragedy for us both. I have never had but one woman in my heart, and any effort to dethrone that image would produce a condition for which I cannot hold myself responsible. That is what I fear, and you must help me.”

“Of course I'll help you, my dear fellow,” Huntington reassured him, “but are you not exaggerating Mrs. Thatcher's attitude? I can't believe that she will proceed further when she knows how you really feel.”

Hamlen shook his head. “You have heard of men who lost their reason by being accidentally locked in a tomb overnight—think what it has meant to me to live with the specters of the dead for twenty years! As I look back, I wonder that I've held together at all! I'm not rational even now,—I know that; but I'm improving every day. What you have looked upon as an obsession, an eccentricity, has been a condition over which I have had no control, but through you I have been able to partially extricate myself. Mrs. Thatcher stirred the dead embers when she found me in Bermuda, and beneath them lay the smoldering flames which had slowly consumed my life. That I was able to hold them in check there gave me courage to accept your point of view, and I know that I have gained strength during these weeks I have spent with you.”

“You are stronger in every way,” Huntington said with decision. “If you were able to hold yourself in check then, you should now feel doubly safe.”

“Perhaps,” Hamlen admitted doubtfully; “that is why I don't follow my strong impulse to let you put me up at the Club. I want to test myself still further. Whenever Marian Thatcher's name is mentioned I feel such a confusion of emotions that I realize how far I am yet from being my own master. I must either conquer or else return to the old life.”

“I'll stand by you—of course I will!” Huntington laughed, hoping to lessen Hamlen's apprehension by treating the subject lightly. “Keep the specters of the past back among the dead where they belong; don't let them stalk in your present in which you are just beginning to find what life really is. Mrs. Thatcher is a beautiful woman of flesh and blood and not an avenging Nemesis!”

“My God, Huntington! can't I make even you understand!” Hamlen cried out. “It is the fact that Marian Seymour is a beautiful woman of flesh and blood that the specter stalks! You who have never loved can't sympathize as I do with the aboriginal man who struck down whomever stood between himself and the woman he wanted, and carried his prize bodily to his cave. I boasted that these twenty years had given me opportunity for super-intellectual development, but instead I find myself controlled by almost primeval instincts. My respect for law is weakened, my regard for the rights of others seems stultified. This woman has been mine since we were boy and girl together, Huntington, and I want my woman! Before she broke the engagement my domination was too complete, for it made her fear me; when we met twenty years later it was she who dominated. Now, as I am coming back to myself, I feel my former power returning, and I know that if I chose I could compel a subservience of her will to mine. That is what I dread, for my exile has destroyed my sense of proportion. If I do not exercise my own strength then I must let her will be supreme, and that means that I shall marry the girl while I worship the mother.—Don't belittle my fearfulness, Huntington; it is a real thing to be reckoned with.”

“Whether real or not,” Huntington said kindly, “the fact that you think it so is enough. I shall not advise you nor urge you to do anything except what you yourself think wise, and so far as I can, whenever or wherever you wish it, I will help you.”

This discussion left a deep impression upon Huntington. He had never looked upon Hamlen as a man of force, but rather as a visionary of nervous tenseness; yet this outburst showed a strength which would have carried his classmate far had it been properly directed. In spite of his present activities Huntington could see that Hamlen still lived much in his past,—the unconscious return to Mrs. Thatcher's girlhood name was evidence of that, his reference to the ghostly companions of his Bermuda life was equally convincing. What puzzled him was Hamlen's conviction that Mrs. Thatcher was determined to compel the suggested alliance against his will. This Huntington could not believe. She had expressly stated to him that it was only an idea to be acted upon in case it proved wise. Had Hamlen shown an interest in Merry, then undoubtedly Marian's influence would be exercised in his behalf; but surely a mother's heart would not be insistent in so serious a crisis! In this at least Hamlen's apprehensions carried him too far.

The opportunity to satisfy himself came to Huntington the day after his guests arrived. They had motored down the North Shore and back to the Club for lunch on a bright Sunday morning which seemed prepared especially to show Boston's environs off to best advantage; and as they strolled about the Club grounds he found himself paired off with Mrs. Thatcher.

The evening before had developed nothing of any moment. The two boys rushed in after dinner, completely monopolized the situation for such time as they were present, and then dashed off to keep a college engagement. Things were too “thick,” Billy explained to Merry, to have a real visit. Thatcher seemed worn out and asked the indulgence of his host to permit his early retiring; Mrs. Thatcher was happy and complacent, rejoicing in the change she found in Hamlen and grateful to her ally for having brought it about; Merry appeared strangely quiet, but even if her presence had been wholly silent it would have seemed a benediction to Huntington, whose sentiments no one suspected, and on whom all depended for the expression of their individual purposes. Huntington smiled grimly to himself as he recalled Hamlen's matter-of-fact assumption that love had never entered into his life; he even questioned whether his friend's self-imposed restraint was more difficult than the repression of his own emotion!

After luncheon they walked out onto the golf links, Huntington and Marian finding a retreat in one of the thatched-roof shelters from which they could command an extended view on all sides. Thatcher and Hamlen had fallen behind, following Merry, who was eager to secure a better idea of the earlier holes in the course. Marian seated herself and then looked up into Huntington's face with an expression of complete satisfaction.

“It is simply wonderful!” she exclaimed.

“It is a fine course—”

“I'm not thinking of the course,” she interrupted. “What you have done with Philip Hamlen is simply wonderful!”

“You must give your boy his share of the credit; his influence over Hamlen is no less than mine.”

“I am glad my son could do something toward paying his mother's debt,” she replied feelingly. “Now if you and I can complete the work I shall feel that restitution has been amply made.”

“You refer to your daughter?”

“Yes; if I can see Merry married to Philip Hamlen I shall be blissfully content.”

Huntington did not reply at once. He must be fair to this woman of whose determination he could now have no doubt; he must be fair to Hamlen, but above all he must be fair to the girl herself. Could he assume any position of impartiality? Would not each word really be a cry from his own heart, not against Hamlen but against any one who should create a barrier between himself and her? But Hamlen had besought his aid, so after all a responsibility existed, not of his making, which could not be shirked. He would meet the issue squarely with special care to eliminate himself.

“I regret to say that I cannot sympathize with that plan,” he said deliberately.

Mrs. Thatcher looked at him in complete surprise. “I thought we agreed—”

“I have had greater opportunity to study Hamlen since we last talked.”

She was genuinely distressed by Huntington's attitude. “I have set my heart upon it,” she said firmly. “Through me his life was wrecked; it would be only justice if I helped him to find his happiness.”

At that moment Huntington wondered how Marian Seymour could ever have attracted him. He had told Hamlen that the alchemy of a woman's heart was past his comprehension, but he had believed that mothers' hearts were all the same. He knew that Mrs. Thatcher was devoted to her daughter, yet her insistence appeared to him inexplicable and reprehensible. Had his companion been a man he would have told him so; under the present circumstances he spoke more guardedly.

“Being friends and allies, we should be frank in expressing our conviction,” he explained; “this must excuse my otherwise unwarranted objections.”

“You know Merry now. Don't you agree with me that her interest is in men older than herself?”

“Has she been consulted?”

Mrs. Thatcher flushed. “No,” she answered; “I shall not speak to her until Philip Hamlen has been persuaded.”

“You think she will acquiesce?”

“I am sure of it. She may not understand at first, but I am certain that she will feel as I do. Who could fail to see that he would be an ideal husband for her?”

“What would your life have been if you had married Hamlen?”

“But he has changed,—he has learned much from his experience.”

“He is still, and always will be an abnormal personality,” Huntington insisted. “Marriage, in my opinion, has no place in his life, and no woman could possibly endure his eccentricities. He can still find much to interest him among men, but I beg of you not to pursue an experiment which contains so many elements of danger.”

“You put it strongly, Mr. Huntington.”

“I feel it strongly; that must be my excuse.”

Mrs. Thatcher was visibly affected. It was several moments before she spoke, and Huntington could see that she resented his attitude.

“You look at it wholly from a man's standpoint,” she protested. “No one with Philip Hamlen's temperament can find the life he craves in companionship with men alone. Of course I respect your convictions, but you in turn must respect mine. I am so sure I am right that I cannot abandon the hope I have so long cherished. It will be more difficult of accomplishment without you, but if necessary I must carry it through alone.”

“Forgive me, Mrs. Thatcher,—but are you not thinking of him and of your obligation more than of your daughter?”

“You surely don't think I would force Merry against her will!”

“Sometimes we leave one a free moral agent,” Huntington said pointedly, “and at the same time bind him with chains stronger than iron by expression of our own desires.”

The approach of Hamlen and Merry brought the unsatisfactory discussion to a forced conclusion, and Huntington rejoiced that it saved him from further expostulations. Thatcher had returned to the club-house to telephone, leaving Hamlen and Merry by themselves. Hamlen responded to Merry's spontaneous vivacity, and both were in the best of spirits as they walked toward the shelter. He was heavier now and it became him. The sallowness had left his face and a slight color appeared in his cheeks. The girl beside him, as always when enthusiastic, radiated happiness. Her companion could scarcely keep up with her as she half walked half ran up the slight incline.

“Look at them!” Mrs. Thatcher exclaimed, turning to Huntington. “Who are you to tell me I am wrong!”

Huntington was spared the necessity of reply for Merry had reached them. Mrs. Thatcher rose and strolled away by herself to relieve her overwrought feelings.

“Oh, for a golf-skirt and a bag of clubs!” the girl cried. “When may I play this adorable course?”

“To-morrow morning,” Huntington replied promptly, “if my guests permit me to provide them with other entertainment. After to-morrow I must give you up to those most exalted of personages, the Seniors.”

“I'd love to play this course,” Merry said gratefully,—“but you're going over for Class Day, aren't you?”

“Yes; but we old grads don't count as against the Seniors. They are the heroes and we bend the knee. On Thursday we shall walk respectfully up to the graduating class, bow politely, and say, 'We who are about to die, salute you'!”

Merry laughed gaily. “Then, the next day, these heroes jump down off their pedestals, walk respectfully up to the old grads, bow politely, and say, 'Please give us a job'!”

“Don't be an iconoclast, Miss Merry,” Huntington retorted. “These boys may be looking for jobs, but they are richer than any of us: they have youth, and life is before them.”

“Grandpa!” the girl laughed mischievously.

“I sha'n't let you call me that!” he cried, really piqued.

“Then don't be so unfair to yourself!” she retaliated; “you are the youngest 'old' man I ever met!”

XXIX

       * * * * *

It was with real regret the following morning that Huntington watched his ball drop into the cup on the eighteenth green. The round had been too perfect, the experience too enjoyable to come to an end so soon.

“Five down,” Merry remarked. “That looks to me like a real defeat.”

“I'm glad to find some game I can play better than you,” Huntington replied banteringly. “I'm still sore over our swimming-races in Bermuda. But in all fairness I must admit that this course is built for a man's game, and the premium on the length of the wooden clubs was all that saved me to-day.”

“You are generous,—but I acknowledge my defeat. Do we have to go home now?”

“There is at least an hour between us and the rigid convention of luncheon,” Huntington answered. “Shall we spend it on the piazza?”

“It is much nicer beneath one of these great trees,” she said, suiting her action to the word and sitting down upon the grass. “Come. Let us imagine that we're back in Bermuda again!”

Huntington seated himself beside her, still rebellious that their moments together were passing so swiftly. He had wondered how she would appear to him when he saw her again, half hoping to find that the charm of the earlier setting had exaggerated her attractiveness, half dreading an awakening. This would have simplified his problem, but it would also have robbed his life of the richness which had entered it. Even though he saw his course plainly plotted out for him, there was a delicious joy in knowing that there existed one who had awakened in him that which alone is best and without which no man's experience can be complete.

But his half-hope was not to be gratified nor his half-dread realized. The girl was different, but the intervening months had done their work well. She seemed older and more mature, yet this passing of the girl into womanhood had been accomplished without marring those characteristics which he had before admired. His eyes rested on her face longer than he realized, as these thoughts passed through his mind, but until she spoke he had no idea that she had noticed the closeness of his scrutiny.

“Well,” she said smiling, “do you approve?”

He made no apology, for they understood each other too well, but instead accepted her question seriously.

“Entirely,” he replied with an air of sincerity which forced the color into her face. “The expression of the mouth, the tilt of the head, the sparkle in the eyes,—all is perfection. But you suggested that we imagine ourselves back in Bermuda. For myself, I should not dare to try it, for it could never be the same.”

“Should we want it to be?” she asked earnestly. “An experience repeated must have something added or it fails to satisfy. To be the same would bring disappointment. I've argued that all out with myself, so I'm sure I'm right.”

“Why should you have done that?” he demanded.

“Because those were the most wonderful days I have ever known,” she explained simply and without embarrassment. “I found myself wishing them back; then I realized that if I could have my wish gratified it wouldn't satisfy me. I was unhappy when I went down there for no reason in the world except that I couldn't seem to find my place. With all their love no one at home has ever understood me, and I had reached a point where I didn't understand myself. Then you gave me the chance to know Mr. Hamlen, and in what you said to him and to me I saw what happens when one has no anchorage. That was what had made me unhappy,—I was drifting horribly.”

“You concealed it well,” Huntington said. “All the time we were together I never suspected that you had a care in the world.”

“That is a compliment to yourself,” the girl answered. “With your optimism you draw out the best in every one. See what you did with Mr. Hamlen down there, and what you have done with him since! You are the most completely happy person I have ever met, and—don't scold!—I have tried to imitate you. I haven't been very successful yet, but I'm trying. Some time, when the supreme test comes, I shall accept it, and then you will see what your example has accomplished.”

The sincerity of the girl's words made Huntington uncomfortable. At first it pleased him to discover how genuine was her respect, but as she continued he found himself embarrassed by the character she gave him.

“I shall begin to think myself somebody if you go on,” he expostulated. “You are crediting me with attributes I don't seem to recognize.”

“That is because they come so naturally to you,” she explained. “You are happy because your life is spent in making other people happy. That is the lesson I learned.”

“You were doing that long before I met you, and you are doing it now.”

“No,” she insisted; “it may have seemed so to you, but I was really trying to find happiness for myself, and because I was thinking of myself it didn't come. Since I returned home I've tried your plan, and so far it has worked splendidly.”

“But the supreme test,” Huntington asked,—“what is that to be?”

“Oh, I don't know,” she answered with an effort to speak indifferently; “being a girl I suppose it will be my marriage.”

“That should be the supreme triumph of your happiness rather than the test.”

“I used to think so but I've changed my mind. I had a vision once of what I thought marriage ought to be.—We spoke of it in Bermuda, and you made fun of it, don't you remember? I'm convinced now that it was all wrong.”

“You said that you would marry only a man who would let you contribute your share to the real life which you would jointly live.”

“Yes,” Merry answered consciously; “and you laughed at me! But you were right. I ought not to think so much of myself.” She paused a moment. “The man I really loved probably wouldn't care for me at all,” she continued soberly, her eyes averted. “If I am convinced that I can make the man I marry happy, then I am more certain of finding happiness myself. That is making a tremendous compromise with sentiment, but don't you think it more sensible, after all?”

“Then the supreme test, as I understand it, would be to marry a man you thought you could make happy whether you cared for him or not?”

Merry nodded her head in affirmation. A sudden suspicion came into Huntington's mind, and he looked at the girl curiously.

“Has your mother been talking to you upon this subject?” he demanded with more directness than he had a right to use.

“Why, no,” she answered, showing her surprise. “She thinks me too indifferent to men; but we have never discussed the matter seriously because there has been no occasion.”

Huntington was relieved by her words but her ideas were not reassuring. He started to tell her that she was entirely wrong, but he checked himself because he realized that differing with people had now come to be a habit with him. Two days before he had carefully explained to Hamlen how erroneous his convictions were only to discover that he himself had been in error. Yesterday he had differed with Mrs. Thatcher, and now he found his ideas at variance with Merry's. Instead, he lifted the girl's left hand, which rested on the grass beside him, and gently pointing to the third finger he looked earnestly into her deep eyes.

“Merry,” he said calling her by her name for the first time, “when the moment comes for some man to slip a gold band on there I want you to remember what I tell you now. You have pictured me as an apostle of optimism and as the happiest person you know. I could tell you something about that, but instead I'll try to live up to your picture. But this much is gospel truth, and I want you to remember it: that gold band will stand as a symbol and the circle means completeness. It doesn't stand for sacrifice, or for supreme tests, or for anything of that sort,—it does stand for just what you saw in your 'vision.' A very wise person once said that marriage was either a complete union or a complete isolation, and he was right. My friends think me a cynic on this subject, but my cynicism is a result of the complete isolation I see every day in the lives of my friends. I want your marriage to be a complete union, little girl, and that can't come if you apply your present ideas to a sacrament so sacred that every-day principles become meaningless. Marriage is the merging of all that is beautiful in two lives, and unless the love on each side strives to outdo the other in contributing to the joint account, the beauty fades, and the gold circlet stands as a symbol of slavery instead of representing the most wonderful relation which mortals are permitted to enjoy.”

“Mr. Huntington!” she exclaimed in a low tone, “I had no idea you looked upon marriage like that! I didn't believe any man did! It makes me have more faith in my vision. Still, after all, that doesn't change the fact itself, for you are the exception. But, feeling as you do, I know now that the only reason you are not married is that you have never found the girl.”

Huntington looked full into her face before he turned his head aside. “I did find the girl,” he answered with a depth of feeling in his voice; “but I found her too late.”

“Forgive me!” Merry cried impulsively, convinced that she had torn open a concealed wound.

“There is nothing to forgive, dear child,” he said quickly. Then with that smile which took the world in its embrace he added, “Don't waste your sympathy on me; life has already given me more than I deserve.”

“I am so sorry,” Merry replied soberly. “She must have been a wonderful girl to win such a love.”

“She was,” he answered.

XXX

       * * * * *

Billy Huntington was the founder of an original secret organization called the “Club for Undesirables.” Being the founder he was privileged to write the By-Laws, and these consisted of a single Article: “The members of this Club shall be elected by the non-members.” Exercising his prerogative he had proposed, seconded and elected Cosden and others of his acquaintance who failed to attain the standards he demanded of those around him; and now he unanimously declared Mrs. Thatcher a member in full standing.

These were not red-letter days for the boy. Ever since his visit to New York at Easter the times had been out of joint, and he blamed Merry's mother for it all. From his viewpoint the visit had been a “frost,” and he nursed his resentment so successfully that he came to look upon it as a virtue. Uncle Monty noticed the change, but having no knowledge of the cause gave Billy credit for at last showing symptoms of growing up. Philip looked upon his tragedy as a huge joke, and made his friend's life wholly unendurable by frequent veiled allusions to the “inflammable age,” rubbed in as only a college chum can do. The sympathy he craved was sadly lacking, so he sought compensation by sympathizing with himself.

Billy would have been better satisfied with the completeness of his martyrdom had he been able to include Merry among those who abused him, but he could discover no point where she had failed to preserve an aggravatingly consistent neutrality. She was always friendly, accepting his extravagant expressions of devotion with a good-natured indifference which robbed them of all significance She had taken no exceptions to her mother's humiliation of him, nor had she taken advantage of it; everything progressed with a disgusting sameness, when he had confidently expected that the result of his visit would be to acclaim him Merry's accepted suitor, and thus raise him to the seventh heaven of delight.

While Hamlen had been in Boston Billy found himself again side-tracked. Not only was Uncle Monty engaged, but Philip devoted much of his time to his new responsibility. Everything conspired to throw Billy back upon his own resources, and here he developed a decided hiatus. The boy's strongest point was his ability to fit in with some one else's plans, and of all his friends Philip proved most fertile in his suggestions.

Now Class Day was at hand, and as it was not his Class Day he felt himself eclipsed by the added glory which came to Philip and the other Seniors. As an under-class man he counted for absolutely nothing. When he was a freshman, the comparative size of the halos worn by his Class and the graduating students was an open question of debate; from a sophomore's standpoint, he was near enough the freshmen to be able to look down upon them with a gratifying sense of superiority; but as a Junior there was nothing to do but to wait for the coming year,—and waiting was a game not included among Billy's favorite indoor or outdoor sports. He had expected little from the visit of the New York friends, owing to the presence of “the Gorgon” as he christened Mrs. Thatcher, and in this expectation he was not disappointed. Merry herself was fully occupied, and her mother took every opportunity to prevent diverting influences from affecting what she considered a crucial moment. So Billy, thoroughly disgruntled, drew himself up with a dignity which he did not know he possessed, denied himself to the visiting friends, and permitted the procession to move on without him.

Philip himself, being at New London with the crew, was prevented from taking personal participation in the Class Day festivities, but the classmate whom he delegated as substitute proved an ideal host. In Philip's absence Huntington had no compunctions in joining with Hamlen in the Thatchers' celebration; had the boy been there he would have felt it an intrusion for any one outside the family to share with them the triumph which comes but once in a college man's life. So they passed together from spread to spread, in and out of the Yard, listening to the music, admiring the attractive costumes and the still more attractive girls, entering into everything with a spirit which even Hamlen felt, and which took Huntington back to his own Class Day, so many years before.

When the march to the Stadium was formed Huntington led Hamlen to that portion of the line where their own classmates were assembled, and presented him to each. Only a few remembered him, but all gave him a welcome which confirmed Huntington's predictions. Hamlen noticed who the men were standing side by side, and was impressed by the fact that while in college the groups had been made up quite differently. He and Huntington, then, did not form so grotesque a combination as he had imagined. Other members of his Class, who knew each other but slightly while in Cambridge, since then had discovered characteristics in each other which drew them together. As Huntington said to him in Bermuda, the ratio had become readjusted, the essentials only were remembered, and the real bond was the fact of being members of the great fellowship. Then the procession started, and he fell into step with the new life which it had taken him so long to find.

After the exercises at the Stadium, Cosden, at Huntington's suggestion, took Hamlen with him to the Varsity Club, where the athletic heroes of past and present congregated. There was a motive back of the suggestion, and the effect on Hamlen of seeing these men, whose importance college ideals had magnified, in their present relation to the world and to their fellow-men, justified the experiment. Some of the old captains or record-holders showed unmistakably their continued pre-eminence; others had fallen back into the ranks after their temporary standard-bearing. Hamlen could understand it now: what they did in college was of importance only to the extent that it fitted them for what was to follow; it was the use they made of this fitting in the after-life which produced the permanent effect. This was the difference between the means and the end which Marian tried to explain to him in Bermuda.

Then came Commencement as a crescendo. It would have meant little to Hamlen had it preceded Class Day, but each new experience gave him fuller understanding and richer enjoyment. He saw again the same members of his Class and felt now that he knew them; he met others, and was able to mingle freely as a fellow-classmate. On Class Day the alumni came as a unit, on Commencement they separated into Class groups, each with its own spread and reunion, offering greater opportunity for intimate exchanges of personal experience and mutual confidence.

The climax came the following day with the boat-race at New London. The Thatchers had returned home immediately after Class Day with plans of their own still to be carried out, so Huntington and Cosden formed the body-guard which convoyed Hamlen to the great event. Huntington knew that he could not credit his friend's feverish anticipation wholly to the dawning interest in Harvard events, but was equally content to see how personal a triumph Philip's seat in the boat had become to him. Had Hamlen's nervousness been shared by his namesake and the other oarsmen the result of the race might have been foreshadowed! He changed his mind about going so many times that Huntington finally insisted upon a definite decision.

“Of course I want to go,” he explained; “but I never saw a Harvard crew win and I can't believe I'm going to now.”

“Perhaps you won't,” was the frank disavowal of responsibility. “The worm must turn again some time, and it may be that this is the year, but Harvard has the habit of winning now, and that goes a long way.”

“It would kill me to see Phil lose!” Harden said with deep feeling.

“Tell me,” Huntington said,—“tell me frankly for my gratification, is your eagerness to see Harvard win to-morrow wholly on Phil's account, or have these days brought your crimson blood near enough to the surface to make you keen for the crew to win because it's a Harvard crew? Don't deceive yourself or me. I really want to know.”

Hamlen hesitated before making reply, then he returned Huntington's look with a frankness which conveyed much. His eye was clear and responsive now; the haunting terror had left it. He met the question squarely.

“Until this moment,” he said, “I supposed myself sincere in believing that my interest lay wholly in having that boy come through victorious, but as you put it to me now I know there is a reason which lies deeper still. Thanks to you, dear friend, notes in my life which have always before been mute have now been struck, and I am finding a wonderful joy in the melody produced. I have awakened to my heritage, and I realize what I have missed in denying myself its privileges. I want Harvard to win, Huntington, because it's Harvard. I shall always want Harvard to win for the same reason. It may be better for the sport to have the victories alternate, it may be impossible to defend anything so selfish as a desire for an unbroken line of victories for years to come; but still I want it. There is no occasion to argue it, there is no logic to support it; I just simply want it!”

Huntington regarded him with a satisfaction too deep for outward exuberance. “I knew the spirit was too strong to accept limitations!” he exclaimed quietly but with an exultant ring in his voice. “I knew that no man could once place himself within the influence of college ideals and not recognize their existence. You have tested my convictions, Hamlen, but my faith has remained 'calm rising through change and through storm.'”

The strength of Huntington's emotion impressed Hamlen deeply. His own dawning was so recent that at first he could not believe it possible for his friend to be so affected by the subject under discussion.

“Do other Harvard men feel as strongly as you do?” he demanded questioningly.

“Of course,” Huntington replied; “but it isn't a question of Harvard any more than of other colleges. We shout for our Alma Mater, but no more lustily than the Yale or the Princeton man or the men of the smaller colleges shout for theirs. It is merely the expression of the spirit of loyalty and the sense of obligation, Hamlen. Not to express it is unnatural, not to feel gratified when another laurel wreath is placed upon the brow of our Dear Mother is a lack of filial devotion which I refuse to believe exists.”

They elected to see the race from the observation-train, that they might watch the positions of the crews from beginning to end rather than at any fixed point. There was no novelty in the experience for Huntington or Cosden except the ever-present uncertainty of the outcome, but to Hamlen even the crowds which he had previously avoided added to his excitement by imparting to him the thrill of their repressed expectancy. He resented the calmness of his companions as they perused their morning papers on the train. He tried to follow their example, but found himself mechanically reading over and over again the statistics of the two crews. Harvard was the favorite, but that he took as a bad omen for he still remembered the Harvard teams which had gone into their contests with the odds on their side, and had failed to win the expected victories. Harvard overconfidence was a byword when he was in college, and it was overconfidence which he feared now.

They took their places on the improvised seats of the platform freight-cars, ready to be hauled to the point of vantage at the start, but the train seemed frightfully deliberate in getting under way. Hamlen glanced at his watch nervously and was surprised that so little time had elapsed since his last observation. Finally they found themselves opposite the judge's boat. Harvard was already nearing the mark and the Yale crew followed only a few lengths in her wake. Hamlen watched the manoeuvers, disturbed by the conflicting cheers coming in sharp staccato from every direction. At last the boats lined up in position. Hamlen fancied that he could hear the referee's challenge: “Ready, Harvard? Ready, Yale?” Then the pistol cracked out with reverberating echoes, the oars gripped the water, the shells shot forward, and the race was on!

Hamlen's face set grimly and he sat bolt upright, taking no part in the mad cheering or the boisterous excitement. His eyes followed every stroke of the oars, and he suffered keenly as the Yale boat took a lead of half-a-length at the quarter-mile. Then he saw Harvard settle down to her work with a stroke quickened enough to enable her to take the advantage. The same stroke kept the crimson boat forging steadily ahead. At the half-mile the positions were reversed, at the mile clear water showed between the shells, another mile added two lengths more, in spite of Yale's plucky efforts to close in on the gaping space. At three miles Harvard had five lengths to the good, and for the first time Hamlen relaxed his tense attitude.

“If it would not be a case of overconfidence,” he said quietly to his companions, “I should say that Harvard was going to win!”

“Nothing but an act of God can save Eli now!” Cosden replied between his cheers. “Why don't you yell?”

“I can't,” Hamlen said; “I feel it too much!”

Still the crimson boat gained, and the contest had changed into a procession.

“Do they ever lose with a lead like that?” he asked Huntington anxiously.

“Lose!” his friend shouted,—“lose! They're gaining every stroke! Rah! rah! rah! Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! There they go across the line!”

He threw his arms deliriously around Cosden and Hamlen and they performed a war-dance on the unsubstantial seats. Every Harvard sympathizer on the train had gone mad, and the Yale streamers were buried in the avalanche of crimson flags.

“Another one!” Huntington shouted; “another wreath for the Alma Mater, Hamlen! Rah, rah, rah! Harvard!”

Hamlen had caught the contagion and was as affected with delirium as those around him. He shouted his college yell over and over again, unconscious that it was the first time in his life he had ever done so. Huntington, the sedate Huntington, was cavorting like a two-year-old, yet Hamlen saw nothing incongruous in his conduct. Cosden was so hoarse that his cries resembled a wheezy calliope, yet they were sweet music in Hamlen's ears. Harvard had won, Philip had won, he had won!

At the station a crowd of undergraduates were singing hilariously:

  “Bring the bacon home, John,
    We cannot eat it all.
  We sometimes got a taste of it
    When you and I were small.
  But now you bring it home, John,
    In springtime and in fall.
  It seems an awful waste of it,
    We cannot eat it all.

There was the hectic scramble for seats on the special train. Snatches of other songs came from here and there, and spasmodic cheering; but gradually the excitement settled down into the quieter calm of satisfied accomplishment. It was an orderly crowd which deserted the train at Back Bay, but the men bunched on the platform, before they separated, and again burst into song. The jibes were forgotten, the boastings hushed. These had their place only in the first expressions of exultant victory. A deeper sentiment seized the celebrating host, which was expressed with uncovered heads:

  “Fair Harvard! thy sons to thy jubilee throng,
    And with blessings surrender thee o'er,
  By these festival rites, from the age which is past
    To the age which is waiting before.

Hamlen watched them in silence, touched with a new emotion by the sound of the words, familiar enough, but which now took on a different meaning. Huntington was right: it was not a boat-race he had just witnessed, it was not the celebration of a victory over Yale, it was a “festival rite,” consecrating anew to its Alma Mater that brotherhood to which he belonged, in grateful acknowledgment of the character and power developed beneath her beneficent influence which placed within its reach “the Earth and all that's in it.”

XXXI

       * * * * *

In July, commercial stagnation increased, and the machinery of business which before had creaked dismally in its daily routine now groaned aloud in its travail; and the pity was that the conditions which caused it were artificially created. There was capital enough, but the banks hoarded it against possible contingencies; the crops were heavy, but it was suicidal for the railroads to move them at the rates legislated by the government; there were contracts to be let, but no one dared give them out or accept them because of the shadow which hung gloomily over every great industry in the shape of governmental paternalism and interference. Stocks representing property intrinsically valuable dropped lower and lower in the market, dividends which had been earned were diverted into surplus as further margin of safety against future developments, unknown and therefore to be feared. Incomes shrank in some cases almost to the vanishing-point, while Washington reveled in an orgy of those good intentions with which they say Hell is paved.

Cosden by this time had come to a full realization of the significance of Thatcher's warning, and he understood now why the New York operator had shown so little interest in the attack on the Consolidated Machinery corporation which had seemed inevitable. In view of conditions as they had developed, and as Thatcher had foreseen them, no new enterprise would be launched until opportunity presented itself to take advantage of its inherent strength. The old-established company need fear no competition while its own business was dropping off in such alarming proportions. So Cosden again reduced expenses, still further extended his bank affiliations, and settled back to meet whatever conditions might arise, knowing that his sagacity had placed him outside the pale of those fighting for their existence.

In this latter class was Thatcher. The very success of his varied interests now made them shining lights to attract the attention of the authorities in Washington. One by one he saw them attacked, and day by day he watched the dropping values of the stocks, called on by the banks to increase his collateral, drawing deeper and deeper into his personal resources which he had considered ample for any emergency. The strain was terrific yet the only break he permitted himself was during the week of his son's graduation.

The question of the summer home gave Thatcher much concern. The heavy expense of its upkeep made it an item to be considered at this time, yet he could not bring himself to the point of doing what he knew would be an act of wisdom. In their town house the Thatchers lived the usual formal life which belonged to their position, but it was Sagamore Hall they always meant when they spoke of “home.” To relinquish it, even temporarily, seemed to Thatcher nothing less than sacrilege.

The estate consisted of some sixty acres wonderfully located on Narragansett Bay with nearly a mile frontage on the sea. A rolling, close-cropped lawn, bordered on either side by avenues of trees, ran back three hundred yards from the beach before the stately, old English, half-timbered mansion was reached, the broad expanse of green carpeting making a perfect harmony of perspective. The two great end gables of the house formed a shallow forecourt, filled in by a brick terrace with balustrade. Between these gables, the central facade, a double-storied loggia of stone, reminiscent of a Dorsetshire manor house, was strikingly beautiful with its splendid sculptured decorations.

The opposite front of the mansion faced the road, though removed some distance from it, and was approached through a gateway and a winding avenue in keeping with the dignity of the building itself. To the south, connected by shaded walks, was an unusual garden, the boundaries of which were marked by rare trees and shrubs so arranged that they formed a pyramidal mass of verdure, against which perennial blooms of rare and beautiful plants showed their bewildering colors to the best advantage. This garden represented what Marian had put of herself into the estate during the twenty years they had lived there, and to her and to Thatcher each flower, shrub or tree represented something personal and recalled some happy experience.

At Sagamore Hall Marian really lived, keeping out of doors most of the time, entertaining her friends in a manner which made every one feel that each of the many attractions had been arranged for his own special enjoyment. Here the Bermuda party was again united. Thatcher still kept his wife in ignorance of the business complications which now seemed certain to overwhelm him. Marian noticed that he was tired and worried, but this had happened so many times before that she had come to look upon these conditions as deplorable but none the less inevitable factors in her husband's business life. In fact he had so explained on earlier occasions when she questioned him, and had discouraged her from showing too much concern. She recognized that he was scarcely in a mood for the reunion she had planned, but justified her insistence on the ground that he needed the relaxation; while he deemed it wise to yield rather than attempt an explanation.

Edith Stevens had been their guest for a fortnight before the other members of the party arrived. Philip was entertaining several of his college chums, including Billy Huntington, but Mrs. Thatcher particularly requested her daughter to have no guests during this visit, holding herself free to assist in the entertainment.

Since her return home after the Class Day festivities Merry had shown little interest in what went on around her. Had her mother noticed it she would have passed it over lightly as “one of the child's moods,” but Mrs. Thatcher was too completely engrossed in her own great scheme to be keenly sensitive to anything around her. In fact Merry's attitude seemed peculiarly receptive, and encouraged her, a few days before Hamlen was expected, to take her daughter into her confidence.

In answering Huntington's question Marian expressed greater confidence in Merry's acquiescence than she really felt. To herself she admitted that she did not understand her daughter. Since the elaborate plans for Merry's social life fell through because of the girl's lack of interest and failure to respond, Marian had almost given up in despair. Merry was unlike the daughters of the Thatchers' friends, who might be counted on at all times to do the expected thing when given the expected conditions; with her it was always the unexpected which happened. She loved athletics, not because of the companionship of boys, as other girls did, but for the games themselves; she was fond of dancing, but she would as soon dance with another girl as with a man,—it was the rhythmic motion of the dance itself which fascinated her; she had no interest nor ability in making “small talk,” but was always eager to discuss problems which her mother felt she might better leave alone; she tolerated young people of her own age, but expressed her real self only when thrown with older friends. Mrs. Thatcher worried more over her daughter's future than over any other phase of the family life, and the solution which now seemed to offer itself contained so much promise that Marian believed it to be foreordained.

It was not easy to broach the subject, but when once accomplished Marian talked on for some time without waiting for Merry to enter into the discussion. It was important, she felt, that the girl should know the whole story before being permitted to express an opinion. As the full significance of her mother's words dawned upon Merry there was an instinctive recoil, but she listened with outward calm. Marian believed herself to be suggesting nothing save deepest concern for her daughter's future; Merry heard nothing but a personal appeal for sacrifice. The romance of her mother's early experience, the results which came from the breaking of the engagement, her own interest and participation in Hamlen's new life,—all went to strengthen the appeal, but still it asked for sacrifice.

As she listened Merry's mind was working fast. What were the relations existing between them? She admired her mother tremendously, and was proud of the attention her beauty excited wherever they went. She respected her, for no wife or mother ever carried herself in these positions with greater regard for the proprieties. Did she love her? Of course! what a question to come to a girl's mind! Did she? The question repeated itself insistently. Merry wondered. If this were disloyalty, then the thought itself formed the offense; to analyze it was imperative before putting it aside. The girl knew that she was face to face with the crisis of her life, that the question now in mind had really been the cause of that unrest she had failed to understand.

“Is this something which you ask me to do?” Merry inquired at length.

“No, my dear; that would be exceeding a mother's rights.”

“But you wish it?”

“Yes; that is a different matter.”

“I wonder if it is,” the girl said soberly.

“It is a very different matter,” Marian insisted. “I am thinking only of you, dear child. Unless you felt convinced, as I do, that your marriage would mean your happiness, I should be the last one to wish it.”

“Why don't you let me wait, as other girls do, until I find the man I love?”

“Because you're not like other girls, Merry—”

“I've always been a disappointment to you, haven't I, Momsie?” she asked suddenly.

“Not that, dear,” Marian disclaimed. “Of course it has worried me that you would never be intimate with young people your own age. I have never understood it—”

“That is because I never had any girlhood, Momsie,” Merry explained seriously. “I grew up too soon. When I was little I couldn't play like other children because my governess was always teaching me manners; so I had nothing to do but think.”

“What are you talking about, child!” Mrs. Thatcher protested. “You are a perfect tomboy, even to-day!”

“I've had to make up for lost time, Momsie. You never saw me play when I was little; that came after I became old enough to have my own way. Then I learned games, but not as a child learns them; they were serious problems, to be thought out because I had formed the habit of thinking. While I was away at school I felt older than the other girls there, and I wasn't interested in what interested them; that gave me a chance to think some more. Then I came home, and you gave me that wonderful coming-out party! It was after that I disappointed you most, wasn't it, Momsie? I couldn't live the life the other debutantes did—talking silly nonsense until early morning with men who hadn't any sense at all, rushing to thes dansants smoking cigarettes, and all that sort of thing.”

“I never knew that you did smoke cigarettes,” Marian said severely.

“I don't suppose the mothers of the other girls knew it either; it was the secrecy which made it sporty and gave the smoking its only interest. I couldn't stand it, Momsie! I had to be doing something worth while! Finally you let me have my own way, very much against your will, and since then I've been a tomboy, as you say. Father gave in on the boat, and I've spent hours in her, all by myself, trying to find out what the things worth while are. I haven't been very successful yet, Momsie, but I do know that it is a waste of time to fool around with boys like Ted Erskine when one may find a chance to talk with a real man like Mr. Huntington.”

“Mr. Hamlen is a real man, too, Merry. If you knew something of life—”

“It's because I know too much of life, and understand too little. Mr. Huntington has helped me to understand.”

“I had hoped that by being so much with him, you would be the more prepared to appreciate Mr. Hamlen,” Mrs. Thatcher said.

“I wish I might have been more with you, dearie.”

Marian looked up quickly. “What do you mean by that?” she demanded. “Haven't I given all my leisure to my family?”

“You have had so very little leisure, Momsie.”

“I have had my own interests, of course—”

“I'm not criticising you, dearie,” Merry hastened to interpose; “I'm only trying to explain myself to you.”

“I have done my best to prepare my children for the life they would naturally enter—”

“Isn't life what we live every day, Momsie? It isn't all made up of worldly things, is it?”

“Upon my word!” Marian cried. “One would think that I had entirely neglected my family!”

“No, Momsie; you have been most ambitious for us, and have made sure that we could have everything you thought we ought to have. Truly it isn't that I don't appreciate what you have done; I simply can't understand why any one should want the things you consider essential. Why, for instance, are you so anxious for me to be married?”

“Because it is natural at this time in your life, Merry.” Mrs. Thatcher was determined to have no quarrel, in spite of what she considered just provocation. “It is a mother's duty to advise her daughter when she sees her on the verge of a mistake.”

“Suppose I felt that I didn't care to marry, Momsie, that I should be happier to go through life expressing my own individuality?”

“Don't let us get started on that,” Marian protested. “You know how little patience I have with feminism in any form. I do wish we might discuss some subject in a normal way as other mothers and daughters do, Merry,” she continued, softening. “I have your interests on my mind all the time, I want to help you to understand yourself and life, I love you so, dear child,—and yet, whenever we try to talk anything over, it always turns into an argument. What I have suggested to-day I have thought of for months, I have considered it from every standpoint before presenting it to you, but you give me no credit for that. Before you even know how you feel about it you are ready to dismiss it. I really think my efforts for your happiness are entitled to more consideration.”

“You think this would be for Mr. Hamlen's happiness too?” Merry asked soberly.

“I am sure of it,” Marian replied, seeming to see a sign of yielding in the girl's question.

“Why hasn't he spoken to me himself?” Merry asked at length.

“He will speak, of course; but to meet with another disappointment would undo all the advance he has made.”

“I can't think of Mr. Hamlen as a married man,” Merry continued; “I can't believe that he would be happy under conditions changed from what they are now. If he could only go on living with Mr. Huntington—”

“That is out of the question, of course,” Mrs. Thatcher answered. “Mr. Huntington has accomplished a miracle in bringing him out of his old obsession, and if it were possible to surround him now with normal conditions there is no limit to the heights he might reach.”

“Has he told you that he cared for me?”

“Not in so many words,” her mother admitted; “that is scarcely to be expected. I understand him so much better than he does himself. He disparages his abilities, which is not a bad characteristic in a husband, and without some assurance of success I doubt if he would ever mention the subject to you. But you know what it would mean to him. I shall never urge you against your will, my dear,” she repeated with real feeling,—“you know that without my telling you; but I do feel my own responsibility so keenly! He was a boy of such promise, as he is to-day a man of rare capabilities if the right one could only guide him in making use of his talents. Haven't you felt this yourself, my dear, when you have been with him?”

Merry passed her hand wearily over her forehead. She could not understand why she did not at once protest against what she felt to be an unnatural suggestion. Still, the constancy of the lover, the sympathy which she had felt for Hamlen since their first meeting in Bermuda, and her own state of uncertainty combined in a confused way in the girl's mind. Huntington's face was before her as her mother spoke of Hamlen, his voice was in her ears, his words echoed in her heart: “I found the girl too late!” Mrs. Thatcher thought Merry's hesitation came from a consideration of the arguments just advanced, but what Huntington had said formed the greatest argument of all. This closed for her all hope of happiness coming as a direct response to the craving of her heart, and left her only the possibility of attaining it through the indirect means of giving happiness to some one else.

“That is what he would do,” she whispered; and the thought brought comfort.

“Haven't you felt this?” Mrs. Thatcher repeated at length, to recall the girl to herself. “You have always seemed so much more at home with older men, and he must have appealed to you. He would respond so quickly to the sympathy you could give him.”

“Wouldn't it be wrong to marry a man you didn't love?” Merry asked quietly.

“But you respect him, don't you, dear? And respect is the first step toward love. I wouldn't have you marry him unless that came, but there is plenty of time before the wedding need be considered.”

“I am very unhappy!” Merry exclaimed suddenly, with a little catch in her voice.

“Unhappy, my dear!” Mrs. Thatcher cried with real sympathy, drawing the girl's head upon her shoulder. “Why should you be unhappy? Tell Mother.”

“I don't know, myself,” Merry admitted, crying softly. “I've been unhappy ever so long. Now and then things have seemed to straighten out, but never for long at a time. Now I'm more unsettled than I have ever been, and I don't feel as if I could be much of a success in making any one else happy while I feel so miserable myself.”

“This may be just what you need to help you find yourself, my dear,” Mrs. Thatcher answered, kissing her affectionately. “Oftentimes, when we are wretched ourselves, we find happiness in giving it to others. Don't promise me anything, dear child, except that you will think the matter over carefully, and be prepared to settle it wisely when the time comes. Let me say again, unless you decide for yourself that your life will be made richer and brighter by marrying Philip Hamlen, of course I should not wish you to consider it.”

Unconsciously Mrs. Thatcher had touched upon the same argument Merry had used with herself. The girl had striven for happiness and failed to find it; she had evolved a creed which called for ideals which she had come to believe did not exist; she had demanded something for herself before she thought of giving of herself. In her failure she had proved her fallacy. The one person who had it in his power to disprove her present contentions must consider her a visionary without the character to make the visions real. Romance had already come to him, and having found the girl too late that chapter in his life was closed. He was happy because he always thought of others rather than himself. That was the only royal road after all. There was nothing repellent about Hamlen. He had many attributes which compelled admiration, and if he once became settled, that in itself might release the indisputable abilities he possessed to accomplish the great work which might lay before him. But would marriage give that to him? Was she the one to bring about the metamorphosis which her mother so confidently predicted? Would happiness come to her as a result of giving it to him?

The thoughts and the questions crowded through her mind in such numbers and with such conflicting incoherence that she could hope to find no answers. But her decision need not be made now—that one fact remained clear and she clung to it. Perhaps another day would bring relief.

“I will think it over, Momsie,” she promised in a tired voice. “Forgive me if I haven't seemed considerate. I want to do the right thing, dear, but it is so hard to know what that is.”

“You are a darling!” Mrs. Thatcher cried, kissing her affectionately. “Don't worry about that. Mother will help you to find out.”

XXXII

       * * * * *

Merry's promise to consider the suggestion was equivalent to a victory, in her mother's mind. True, it had not been won without a cost, for the girl's plain, straightforward comments left their sting; but, after all, they represented only a child's distorted viewpoint which failed to appreciate the manifold demands upon a parent's time. Marian knew that she had been a devoted mother, and she craved appreciation; but this was more than she could expect. Merry's strictures were merely another expression of her peculiar and unfathomable nature.

The promise was the most that Marian could ask for, and with this concession she did not doubt her ability finally to show the child that the older judgment was wise and far-sighted. She knew that Merry had not given the promise lightly, and that once given she would be conscientious in fulfilling it. Her yielding, even to this extent, atoned for many instances in the past where the girl had seemed self-willed in insisting upon following her own judgment in spite of advice from all the family to the contrary; but these were unimportant incidents compared with the one at issue. Marian was now quite content to let her daughter have her own way in anything and everything provided she did not interfere in the gratification of carrying this one great desire of her mother's life to a happy conclusion.

The relations which had existed between her and Philip Hamlen, and the responsibility she assumed for the aftermath, had become greatly magnified during these months. It was natural that she should feel a real satisfaction if she were able to repair the harm she had unwittingly inflicted; but Huntington's question, “Are you not thinking of him and of your obligation more than of your daughter?” proved so disquieting that before speaking to Merry she had made doubly sure in her own mind that the only way her responsibility affected her present actions was to color the result with the romance of the past. She was sincere in her conviction that at every step of her progress she had been guided solely by a desire for her daughter's complete and final welfare, and in her efforts she could find nothing other than a mother's natural love and anxiety.

There was another satisfaction, Marian admitted to herself, but it had no bearing upon the situation until after she became convinced that her attitude was justified from Merry's standpoint. She had never forgotten Hamlen's domination over her as a girl. At the moment when she met him so unexpectedly in Bermuda she felt the old-time sensation of dread she had experienced so many times when alone with him during their childhood days and the period of their engagement. She had never loved him; this knowledge had come clearly to her during the years which had intervened. When she accepted the tacit understanding of an engagement it was because of the dominating influence of his mind over hers rather than a response from her heart to his fierce devotion. The break came on the occasion of the Senior Dance at Harvard to which she accepted Monty Huntington's escort. Hamlen, bitter against college and college life, and having no interest in the graduating festivities, not only refused to attend the dance but forbade her to go without him. Her indignation gave her strength to rebel against his domination. Later she sailed for Europe, feeling a profound sense of relief that she had been able to break the fetters which had bound her, she then realized, against her will.

The Hamlen she met at Bermuda was not the unreasonable boy of twenty years before. He was still bitter, but they met on terms which gave her the ascendency. Those traits which she had admired were accentuated, and the fierce intensity had become modified. Now it was her mind which controlled and his which yielded. He had tried to hold out against her in refusing to come to America, but he had yielded; he was now trying to hold out against her judgment that his marriage to Merry would restore the lost equilibrium, but again he would yield.

Still, above all other considerations, the great fact stood out in Marian's mind that the match itself was ideal. Merry would find in him an intellectual force which would satisfy her natural predilections; she would give him in her spontaneity a leaven to perpetuate the normal expressions of life which Huntington had taught him to understand. She would give him the youth which he had lost, he would give her the response which her unusual development could never obtain from a younger man. The balance was perfect. The mother's heart rejoiced that her efforts could make so noble a gift to her daughter, while the woman's heart found equal satisfaction that these same efforts could pay the debt of years in ample measure.

It would have been a relief if her plans for entertaining the Bermuda party could have been carried through without including Huntington, but, entirely aside from the fact that this omission would have been a marked slight, his co-operation in bringing Hamlen to this satisfactory condition had been so conspicuous that there was no alternative. Mrs. Thatcher was apprehensive lest he take advantage of his influence with Hamlen to strengthen his will against her judgment; but this was a chance she had to take.

Could she have read his mind Marian would have found nothing to fear from Huntington. His familiarity with Merry's nature made him aware, soon after his arrival, of the fact that something of unusual moment had occurred. There was a hectic excitement in her welcome, a yearning in her eyes, otherwise unexplained, which went straight to his heart and prepared him for the climax in the great renunciation of his life.

“When the supreme test comes,” she had told him, “I shall accept it”; and he was convinced that the test had come and been accepted.

“Ah, well!” he sighed deeply, “who am I to interfere?”

It was the second day after his arrival before they finally found themselves alone together, and he realized that Merry had been awaiting this opportunity to have with him one of those intimate conversations which previously he had so much enjoyed. Now, knowing what was coming, he dreaded it. Until the words were spoken he could at least deceive himself into believing that he might be wrong, and this self-deception was all he now had left.

“Let us sit down here in the sand,” she said to him, “just as we used to at Elba Beach.”

“I wish we were back there now,” he answered feelingly, as he responded to her request.

“We always wish for something we have had, instead of something we are going to have, don't we?” she asked, her hand modeling indefinite figures in the damp sand. “I wonder why that is.”

“Because the past is known, and we can select the happy moments as we choose. The future is unknown, and we must take it as it comes.”

“Oh, if we could only look into that future!” she exclaimed suddenly. “If we could only be sure that in it we could correct our mistakes! How that would simplify the problems of the present!”

“Why speak so strongly?” he asked. “That belongs to those who have mistakes to correct.”

“I have been thinking of myself all my life,” she replied, at once making the personal application. “I formed an ideal which I insisted upon realizing, and when I found it at last it proved beyond my reach.”

“To have found it at all is more than most of us can claim.”

Her hand paused in its idle motions, and she looked up at him inquiringly.

“But you found yours.”

“Don't!” he said softly, a twinge of pain crossing his face.

“I've hurt you again!” she cried impulsively. “Don't you see how selfish I am? That proves it! There is no one I wouldn't rather hurt than you, yet twice I've done it. Please forgive me; I'll not do it again.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” he insisted as he did before. “I'm too sensitive, that is all. Sometimes Life draws back the curtain and shows us a wonderful picture of what might have been, to test the strength of the philosophy the years should have taught us. The strong say, 'That is not for me,' and pass it by; the weak stretch out their arms and cry in vain for what they ought to know is not for them. I am among the weak.”

“You among the weak!” she cried incredulously. “How little you appreciate yourself! It is of your strength which you must give me now, for I am trying to be true to what you have taught me by your example: by making some one else happy I am going to seek for happiness myself.”

It had come! Huntington needed no further confidence to complete the avowal. He must be careful not to endanger the possibility of success coming to the efforts which this brave spirit was prepared to make. Hamlen was almost normal now. If this must be, Huntington knew that he had played his part in preparing his classmate for the supreme joy which ought to come to him in sharing the life of such a girl. At least he had made her happiness possible. But the irony of her reference to his teachings!

“Then you are ready for the supreme test?” he asked in a low voice.

“If it comes.”

Then it had not come! The reaction took him to an absurd extreme until his sober sense returned and he realized that this made no change. If Hamlen were eliminated, still the years remained. He saw still more clearly that his opposition was not impartial. If Merry were to tell him of her engagement to some younger man of whom he might wholly approve, how could he take their hands in his and pronounce the banal benediction, “God bless you, my children!” His heart would cry out and his spirit rebel as bitterly in one case as in the other. Except for the question of age he must admit that Hamlen was eligible; that what he lacked in certain traits was offset by super-abundance in others. If Huntington were to be consistent he must efface himself; to interfere would be to accept greater responsibility than he had a right to assume.

“You are prepared to marry a man you do not love because you hope to make him happy, and thus gain happiness yourself?” he repeated the problem slowly, emphasizing every word.

“Yes,” she replied deliberately; “and the reason I so want to peer into the future is to make certain that either one of these results is assured.”

“I suppose Hamlen is the man,” Huntington said soberly.

“He has spoken of it to you?”

“Yes; he mentioned it soon after he came to visit me.”

“Then he does care for me? I had not realized that.”

How could the question be answered? Even if Huntington felt himself free to repeat the confidence Hamlen had given him it would mar the perfection of the sacrifice for Merry to know the truth. Her very eagerness for happiness might bring it, and at whatever cost to himself he wanted that to come to her!

“When we spoke of it Mr. Hamlen was not in a condition to know what his feelings really were,” Huntington replied guardedly. “He realized his limitations, and questioned, much as you do, the possibility of making any other person happy. Since he has learned more of the world he is greatly changed, but we have not again referred to the subject.”

“With us both feeling our limitations, and with both striving to accomplish the same result, don't you think we ought to be successful?”

There was an appealing expression in Merry's face which besought a confirming answer. Huntington could not resist it.

“It must be so,” he said with decision. He smiled into her tense face with a confidence his heart denied. “It must be so,” he repeated. “Somewhere there must be a divinity which watches over gentle souls like yours, and brings them their reward.”

XXXIII

       * * * * *

While Huntington's spirits sank lower and lower Cosden's rose to a point which made him oblivious to the cares and worries of the world around him. He had passed through the probationary period with Edith Stevens with marked success, and this opportunity of consecutive days with her amid such congenial surroundings filled him with a delight which he had never found in his business successes. Edith was right, Huntington was right, Cosden admitted, in their contention that there was something finer and more satisfying than business ideals; but he gave Edith the credit for having proved it to him.

He went to extremes in this swing of the pendulum as in all others, but the net result was a smoothing down of many of the rough corners, and a tempering of the aggressive individualism which had often offended. Cosden sized himself up correctly when he remarked to Edith, “I never expect to be the finished product Monty is, but I'm going to quit advertising the fact.”

Edith could but admire the persistency with which he worked upon his disagreeable problem. Her curiosity to see “how deep it went” developed during the course of several other experiences together, into a complete willingness to forget past delinquencies, and a real desire to encourage him in the pursuit of his new course. It interested her to see that the same forcefulness which had made itself disagreeable before was the very agent which had accomplished the change she admired; that it was this same dogged determination which maintained the present poise and gave him the new dignity.

Marian was delighted by the way her guests grouped themselves, and everything seemed to play wonderfully into her hands. Edith appropriated Cosden and appointed herself his hostess; brother Ricky enjoyed himself hugely motoring around the country in one of the Thatcher automobiles, and did not ask to be considered except at meals; Philip kept his boy friends engaged in an absorbing series of outdoor activities which prevented Billy from interfering with her plans for Merry; Mr. Thatcher was so engrossed with business matters that he became almost a negligible quantity, which his guests understood and overlooked; Huntington so far, Marian rejoiced to admit, had carried himself admirably, dividing his time between Merry, Hamlen and herself in such a way as to be really helpful instead of a menace to her plans. Never had she entertained a group of friends so accommodating, and she was more deeply appreciative at this time than she cared to state.

Edith and Cosden strolled down a leaf-covered walk, flanked by antique statuettes, to an attractive pavilion at the end of the vista. Here they seated themselves after a leisurely walk about the estate. Edith knew she was taking chances, but as she felt quite capable of defending her position she saw no reason why she should not enjoy Cosden's continued devotion.

“I've ordered tea served here,” she announced. “We seem to be a little early.”

“I'm in no hurry,” Cosden replied cheerfully; “are you?”

“I have forgotten how to hurry, after these delicious weeks here,” Edith answered, leaning back in her rustic chair. “I think it agrees with me to be deliberate, as Marian is. I am going to cultivate it.”

“You are deliberate with me, all right,” he declared. “I don't quite understand myself nowadays. Usually when I find that I am making little progress along one line I shift onto another, but now I seem perfectly contented to sit back and watch you act your part. That shows that there's something deeper in all this, doesn't it?”

“You might shift back to Merry,” she replied calmly.

“No,” he said with decision; “I've learned the rules now, and you don't catch me revoking.—Tell me, if you don't like me, why do you let me hang around like this, and if you do like me, what's the use of putting me off so long?”

“There are loads of people I don't even take the trouble to like or dislike, whom I 'put off,' as you call it.”

“Do you really dislike me?”

“No,” Edith drawled slowly, as if deliberating; “I can't say that. In fact I think I rather like you—in spots.”

Cosden leaned forward eagerly. “Isn't it stronger than that?” he demanded.

“I can't say it is,” she replied, her voice manifesting the same interest which she might show if he had asked any other commonplace question; “but don't get down on your knees now, for here comes the tea and I loathe demonstration before servants.”

“All right,” Cosden said with resignation but without losing his cheerfulness; “you don't discourage me a bit. I guess counsel is just collecting a little extra fee for that break in Bermuda. I'll wait.”

“I know how many lumps you take in your tea, and I know that you prefer cream, but shall I pass you the raspberry jam?”

“No, thank you,” he replied promptly. “My mother always used to dose me up with calomel disguised in raspberry jam, and I can't eat it now without tasting the medicine.”

“Very well,” Edith laughed, “try some honey. But please tell me what has put your friend Monty in the dumps. At Bermuda he was stimulating, but down here he's as cheerful as a crutch.”

“Monty in the dumps?” Cosden echoed, surprised. “Why, I hadn't noticed it. Just before Hamlen came to visit him, he was way down,—bemoaned his age, and all that sort of thing. I thought we'd got him out of that. I must look him over and see what the trouble is.—Here come our hostess and Hamlen. Did you ever see such a change in any one?”

Marian approached with her brightest smile. “I'm glad Edith is keeping you from being bored,” she said. “I'm afraid I've been very remiss.”

“I don't see how you could divide yourself into much smaller bits, Mrs. Thatcher,” Cosden replied. “This is a big family you have at present.”

“The bigger the better,” she exclaimed brightly. “I hoped I should find you out here, and as I see the tea is still hot perhaps Edith will let us join you. Philip and I have been walking and talking until we are really tired.”

“I am entranced with all this,” Hamlen said, turning to Edith. “I had no idea, when I paraded my few acres at Bermuda, that I was competing with an estate like Sagamore. I wonder some one didn't rebuke me for my presumption!”

“Isn't that a pretty compliment!” Marian cried. “You have put yourself into every inch of your beautiful place, Philip; Harry and I have only done that to a very small extent. It is beautiful, I admit, and I love it just as I love the beauties with which you have surrounded yourself at home.”

“It makes little difference, after all, where one finds it, so long as it is beauty,” Hamlen replied. “'The dawn is my Assyria; the sunset and moonrise my Paphos and unimaginable realms of faerie; broad noon shall be my England of the senses and the understanding; the night shall be my Germany of mystic philosophy and dreams.' I used to think Emerson must have written that in Bermuda, but it might have been written here.”

Edith caught the expression on Cosden's face and almost laughed.

“What's the use?” he whispered to her without being detected. “This pace is too swift for me! He reeled that off as easily as I could the latest quotations on copper!”

“Oh, Philip!” Mrs. Thatcher exclaimed, “I can't tell you what it means to me to see you yourself again after that awful shock you gave me at Bermuda! Truly, when we left you behind us I gave up hope.”

“What hope there was you took away with you, so I was forced to follow.”

“Come, Cossie—Connie—,” Edith stumbled,—“if I'm to call you by your given name you'll have to change it to something reasonable,—this is no place for us.”

“Don't let us drive you away,” Marian protested.

“That's all right; we want to be driven away. If we stay longer, and Mr. Hamlen talks like that, Mr. Cosden will become sentimental.—Bye, bye.”

Mrs. Thatcher and Hamlen watched them as they strolled leisurely up the path, Edith swinging her parasol and Cosden walking meekly beside her. Finally Marian turned to him and laughed.

“What a dance that girl is leading him!”

“Do you think she cares for him?”

“In her way; but if he marries her he will have earned her!—He went down to Bermuda on purpose to become engaged to Merry.”

“He did!” Hamlen exclaimed, surprised; “why, they were never together when I saw them.”

“Nor often at other times. Of course, it was ridiculous,—but with you, Philip, she'll be the happiest girl in all the world.”

His eyes dropped quickly as she turned the conversation, and the expression on his face completely changed.

“You are wrong, Marian,” he protested; “no happiness can ever come to any woman through me.”

“Don't disparage yourself,” she answered gently. “You are a different man from what you were. Do you think I would counsel this if I were not sure?”

“You believe it, Marian,” he conceded, “and I wish I shared your confidence. But I know myself. The time when I might have made something of what I had passed long ago. If I am to go on at all it must be with my real self suppressed, and the only way to do this is to plod my path alone.”

“Why slip back, Philip? Why suppress your real self?”

“I know the danger of permitting it to assume control.”

“When last we talked you seemed willing to accept my judgment.”

“I am still, in everything but this. I appreciate your desire for my happiness, Marian, but you are taking a responsibility beyond what is wise. I am complimented by your daughter's willingness to listen to an offer of marriage from me, but if the test really came she could not meet it.”

“She would, Philip,—she would.”

“I cannot comprehend it,” he continued; “she has seen me at my worst.”

“She understands you, and appreciates the wonderful qualities you possess. She is too young to know the depth of love, but old enough to recognize what a man like you can become to her. If you would only speak with her you too would understand.”

Hamlen moved uncomfortably in his chair, and was silent for what seemed an interminable period. When at last he turned he spoke with a conviction which shocked her.

“No, Marian,” he said deliberately; “it can never be. Let us end this farce before it goes too far.”

“Philip!” she cried, seeing her work of months crumbling before her, and reading in his determined face the miscarriage of what she believed to be predestined. “I can't permit you to destroy the years which remain to you.”

She leaned over and took his hand in hers. Success had been so near that she could not see it slip away from her now without a supreme effort. Merry needed such a man as this and Hamlen needed her. Why should these false ideas, created by years of self-depreciation, stand in the way of what she knew was best?

“I can't let you destroy the years which remain to you,” she repeated earnestly. “I can't see my child's happiness marred by your foolish insistence upon ideals which rest on conditions now long since passed away. Philip, if you loved me once, show it now by your confidence in my judgment, by your faith in my purpose. Tell me one reason why this should not be.”

“If I loved you once?” he echoed her words with a force which startled her. “Tell you one reason why this should not be? The one answers the other, Marian; for that love, intensified by the denial of twenty years, is now a power I can't withstand.”

“Philip!” she cried, striving to release her hand which he held in a grip which hurt her, “you don't mean that you still—”

“I mean that I have never ceased to love you, Marian. Look at me now and tell me if you doubt it. Even while I cursed you for ruining my life, I loved you. Every day of the twenty years I have lived alone I have had your face before me, I have held out my arms beseeching you to come to me, I have beaten my head against the wall in despair that the one longing of my heart could never hope for realization.”

“You never told me—I did not know—”

“I have at least been strong enough to keep my secret, Marian; but it is sacrilege for you to talk to me of marriage to your daughter. Now that you know the truth you will urge no further. Could anything be more dishonorable than to offer myself to her when even to-day my love for you is beating at my heart until I can scarcely contain it? No, no! let us have an end to all this mockery! In the name of a life's devotion, in the name of the love you once had for me—”

“Release me, Philip,” she entreated, frightened by his tenseness; but he only tightened his grip upon her hand. She realized the importance of terminating this impossible situation, regardless of the pain it might inflict.

“I never loved you, Philip,” she said deliberately. “At the time, I thought I did; but it was my mind and not my heart you dominated.”

He dropped her hand as if she had struck him, and, dazed, supported himself against the rustic chair.

“You never loved me?” he repeated brokenly after her. “You never—oh, God! why did you tell me that! Why did you come back into my life to stir up those forces which had crushed me, but which I had at last subdued!”

Then he turned his eyes upon her, full of the reproach which he dared not trust himself to speak.

“If it was the domination of my mind then, why should it not be now?” he asked in a voice which trembled with emotion. “Look at me, Marian!”

“Don't, Philip, I entreat of you; you frighten me!

“Look at me!” he commanded, and she slowly raised her head and gazed into his face.

“Do you remember the last time you looked at me like that?” he asked quietly, but even in his low tones there was a compelling force she recognized.

“Come,” he said rising, and drawing her toward him. “If it was not love which brought you to my arms before, then it must be the same impulse to-day. Come, Marian, it is not the daughter I want, it is you,—my beloved, my sweetheart of years gone by!”

“Philip!” she protested feebly, “Philip—I entreat—” but the old, irresistible influence was too strong, and he folded her in his arms.

In a moment his face changed as if touched by a magician's wand. The lines which years and disappointment had traced were miraculously smoothed away, and the expression of contentment was that which comes only when the seeker has at last reached the consummation of his quest. The lips moved silently, the eyes looked far into the distance. The past was forgotten, the future unheeded, but the wonderful present was his!

A convulsive sob from Marian finally brought him to himself. He loosened his hold, and gazed into her face with abject horror.

“My God!” he cried, as he allowed her limp form to slip back into the chair. “What have I done! Marian, child, speak to me! Tell me that you forgive me! It was the years which did it, not I; Marian! speak to me! Tell me you forgive me!”

He gazed helplessly around as no response came. She lay there, her head resting on the back of the chair, sobbing hysterically but giving no sign that she even heard his words. He watched her until at last she opened her eyes and regained control. Then he spoke again.

“Leave it unspoken, Marian,” he exclaimed with an agony in his voice which the suspense intensified. “I have said it to myself. I have made myself an outcast, a pariah! Let me take you to the house. Then you need never think of me again.”

“No,” she said brokenly; “leave me here.”

“This is the end, Marian!” The words came short and crisp. “I ask your forgiveness no more. There are some things which are past forgiveness. I only ask you to forget.—Good-bye!”

XXXIV

       * * * * *

The long, sleepless night which followed Marian's harrowing experience, painful as it was, proved the most vital moment of her life. From girlhood it had been hers to receive rather than to give. Her beauty and vivacity had always attracted attention and homage, her positive nature demanded and was given leadership, until she came to regard this as natural and to be expected. To have Huntington question her judgment was as novel as it was unpleasant, to have Merry suggest a worldliness in her approach to life struck her as absolutely incongruous. Mrs. Thatcher knew herself to be a competent woman, and as no one before had questioned her ethics, she accepted the successful outcome of her undertakings as conclusive proof that her judgment was correct.

She might pass Huntington's comment by as the expression of one who could look at any question only from a man's standpoint, she could make light of what Merry said on the ground that the girl knew so little of life; but in her experience with Hamlen she had come face to face with a mistake so real that it compelled a readjustment of her perspective. She could harbor no resentment against him: the climax had come as the direct result of her own error in judgment, and the responsibility belonged to her alone. Ever since that eventful meeting in Bermuda she had seen the battling of conflicting emotions. To her more than to any one else should have come knowledge of the limit beyond which this self-tortured soul could not be pressed. She had deceived herself in regard to the reclamation; Hamlen's condition remained unchanged; Huntington had simply developed him to a point where he had gained better control. Beneath the deceptive smoothness of the surface still surged the turmoil started twenty years before, seething with unsatisfied yearnings, and kept under only by the superb strength of will which she herself at last had broken down. Huntington had warned her of the danger but she refused to recognize its existence. Marian could blame no one but herself, and the fact that her intentions had been of the best did not mitigate the tragedy she had perpetrated. This latest buffet of the world would be conclusive evidence to Hamlen that he had no place in its daily routine.

Marian had reached this point in her mental struggle when the most awful thought of all suddenly came to her.

“Would the harm stop there!”

She sat bolt upright, staring ahead into the grey dawn which lighted the chamber through the long windows. “Merciful God!” she cried aloud,—“not that! not that!”

A moment later she sprang out of bed and threw a kimono about her. Then she opened the window-door and passed out onto the little balcony. The sun was just rising, and Marian unconsciously first felt the beauty of the breaking day. It had been long since she had seen a sunrise! She stood watching it for a brief moment, brushing back with her hand the mass of beautiful hair which fell about her shoulders and lay against her ashen cheeks. Then she stepped forward, and facing the East like a Sun-worshiper of old fell upon her knees in an agony of prayer. The God who made a world like this she supplicated, who flooded it with the radiance of such a day, would not so punish her for a single act of folly! Mistaken as it was, behind it all lay a desire to atone, an effort for the happiness of others. He would not ask for retribution such as that!

Relieved by her outburst she returned to her chamber. She must see Huntington. He would know what to do. He would be God's agent to prevent the awful climax. But it would be several hours before she could disturb him, and these hours must be endured.

Huntington responded promptly to the summons when it reached him, wondering what the occasion might be. Marian's explanation of Hamlen's disappearance the night before had been so diplomatic that he had accepted it, so the real story was a complete surprise. He listened intently as she told him everything, sparing herself in no degree, anxious only to receive from him some assurance that her fears were unwarranted.

“You should have told me sooner,” was the only criticism Huntington made, after learning the details.

“I was completely dazed,” Marian explained helplessly. “This awful thought only came to me in the early morning. You don't think it too late! Don't tell me that!”

“It is useless to speculate,” he answered gravely. “Knowing Hamlen as we do, and knowing how high his sense of honor, the next step seems inevitable. He will consider that he has sinned against the woman he loves, and will demand of himself an expiation beyond what he would exact from any one else. I shall do my best to find him. Let us hope it will be in time.”

“Couldn't I go with you?—No, of course I couldn't,—but how can I endure it until I know? What can I do to help?”

Huntington had risen, ready to take his motor-car which had been summoned when first he learned the facts. There was no excitement in his manner, but an alert readiness to undertake his duty with the least possible delay. As Mrs. Thatcher asked the question a sternness seemed to come into his face, but his voice was kindly as he replied.

“Whatever you tell the others,” he said with decision, “Merry must know the whole truth. There is another tragedy going on in that little girl's soul which needs a mother's care. That is where you can help.—I shall telephone you as soon as I have news.”

As the crunching of the wheels on the gravel road died away Mrs. Thatcher rose and went to her daughter's room. Never before had she so promptly followed another's suggestion, but at that moment she felt an aversion to her own judgment, and welcomed the opportunity to follow rather than to lead.

       * * * * *

“All this mystery is getting on my nerves,” Edith remarked to Cosden as they sauntered out onto the piazza after a later breakfast. “Mr. Hamlen, after seeming perfectly rational with us in the bosquet yesterday, rushes into the house, packs his belongings, and disappears without saying 'good-bye' to any one. Marian, also rational when we saw her yesterday, becomes invisible to the naked eye, and sends word she has a headache—the first I've ever known her to have. This morning she is down to breakfast before any one of us is up except Mr. Huntington, who by a strange coincidence also craves an early breakfast for the first time on record. Marian has gone up-stairs again, and our friend Monty has motored off to Heaven knows where. Now then, what's the answer?”

“Why not accept Mrs. Thatcher's explanation until you have a better one?” Cosden asked, drawing his chair nearer to hers.

“Because it's too fishy, and my curiosity is aroused.”

“In that case I'm sure you'll find out all about it,” he said smiling.

“Why aren't you interested?”

“I'm perfectly comfortable,” he explained, “and so entirely satisfied with the present company that I can spare Hamlen, Monty, and even Mrs. Thatcher just as well as not.”

“Then you're going to leave me to do the work?” she demanded. “That's just like a man!”

“I'm glad they're gone,” Cosden admitted. “It gives me just the chance I've been waiting for: will you marry me?”

“Again?” Edith inquired.

“No; just this once.”

“It would serve you right if I did!”

“I dare you to!”

“No! no! no! no!” she cried.

“Give me an option for thirty days.”

“You silly!” she laughed. “For a sensible man you can be more kinds of foolish than any one I know.”

“Flattery doesn't hurt anybody unless he swallows it,” Cosden retorted complacently.

Whither their gibes would have carried them is needless to consider, for they were interrupted by the approach of a motor-car up the driveway.

“Monty has made a quick trip,” Cosden observed, “now you can satisfy your curiosity.”

“On the contrary,” Edith retorted rising, “the plot thickens. That is Harry Thatcher. What in the world has happened to send him motoring down here at ten o'clock in the morning?”

They passed through the hallway to the porte cochere on the opposite side of the house. Thatcher was just descending from the car.

“Hello!” he greeted Edith, who was ahead. “Where's Marian?”

“Up-stairs. What brings you home at this time of day?”

“Don't disturb her yet,” he exclaimed, disregarding her question. “I want a word with Cosden first. You'll excuse us?”

Locking his arm through Cosden's Thatcher led him back onto the piazza which the two had just left.

“What's wrong?” Cosden asked. “Market gone to pieces?”

“It's hell,—nothing less,” Thatcher answered, speaking with an excitement unnatural to him. “I left New York at four o'clock this morning. I've come to you, Cosden, as a last resort. We've fought each other on every deal we've ever been in, so you understand how hard I'm pushed. If you're fixed so that you can put me next to a bunch of cold, hard cash, you can have anything I control at a fraction of its value. This is your chance to make your everlasting fortune if you can command the cash.”

“You don't mean it!” Cosden exclaimed. “Are you caught as bad as that?”

“Worse than that. Securities are dropping out of sight. Germany will declare war inside of a week, and there is danger of other big nations becoming involved. If they do, God only knows what will happen to the money system of the world; it is strained already to the breaking-point. You may thank Heaven, Cosden, that your investments are not in speculative stocks! But we're losing time. I must get back by three o'clock. Is there any chance of pulling off my forlorn hope? If not, we'll close our doors to-morrow.”

“Do you actually mean that, Thatcher?”

“Exactly that. I don't advise you to do this unless you're fixed so that you can carry things comfortably, for I tell you we're in for a crisis; but if you can, it's the opportunity of a lifetime, and by sacrificing my personal interests I can save my house.”

“How much do you need?”

“Half a million, in cash. I'm that much short of what I must have to see me through. It might as well be a billion!”

“What do you offer for it?”

“Five million in Consolidated Machinery stock.”

Cosden whistled and then became contemplative, while Thatcher waited eagerly for his reply. The hesitation in itself was encouraging, for it indicated that Cosden could raise the money if he cared to do it.

“As a matter of fact, Thatcher,” Cosden said at length, “I've been laying my pipes for just this moment ever since the trouble began, and I'm fixed where I can handle it all right; but I don't quite like the proposition as it stands.”

“Then make your own proposition.”

“I've counted on having my available cash earn me something handsome, of course; but I don't think I'd enjoy my profits much if I got them by cleaning you out.”

“We must forget friendship and all else at a time like this,” Thatcher cried. “For God's sake, man, if you can do it, don't stand on any foolish sentiment! It may ruin me, but my house will weather the storm. I ask it as a favor.”

“How soon must you have the money?”

“By to-morrow.”

“All right; I'll give you drafts to take back to New York.”

“Thank God!” Thatcher exclaimed feverishly. “And you'll take the stock?”

“No, I don't want the stock. Give me your note.”

“But I haven't a dollar's worth of collateral to put up with it. Everything I own is pledged.”

“Damn the collateral! The signature will be genuine, won't it? That's good enough for me.”

“You advance it simply as a loan?”

“Of course. Now let's get the drafts fixed up, and you run back to New York and keep your finger on the pulse of the market.”

“You're sacrificing the chance of your life, Cosden,” Thatcher exclaimed. “Why should you do this for me?”

“I don't quite understand it myself,” Cosden admitted; “but as long as I want to why not make the most of it? I might change my mind.”

“And we've always said you were a hard man, Cosden!” Thatcher exclaimed with gratitude in his voice.

“I was once,” he admitted; “but lately I've been getting humanized, and anybody can slip anything over on me. Now you trot back to New York and cable Willie Kaiser that I disapprove of his declaring war.”

“You are a friend in need!” Thatcher grasped his hand cordially. “I'll run up for a word with Marian, and then back into the vortex. Keep your eye on the cable news, Cosden. Hell is breaking loose!”

As Thatcher rushed up-stairs Cosden relit his cigar which had gone out during the excitement, shoved his hands into his pockets, and walked meditatively up and down the piazza. He was immensely pleased with himself, and felt entitled to his self-approval.

“Even old Monty couldn't have done that better,” he muttered. “Good old Thatcher—I hope it pulls him through!”

“What's the matter with Harry?” Edith demanded in a stage whisper, appearing from nowhere.

“He forgot his umbrella yesterday,” Cosden lied, speciously, “and he's afraid it's going to rain.”

“Oh, you tantalizing brute!” she cried, stamping her foot indignantly. “I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man in the world!”

XXXV

       * * * * *

Huntington's mind worked hard as he settled back in the motor-car and surveyed the situation. It was impossible for him to have been so intimately associated with Hamlen all these weeks without assimilating his friend's manner of thought and action accurately enough to follow him in this climax of his tragedy. Of his determination he had no doubt; that he had as yet put it into execution was another matter. Huntington believed that Hamlen would wish to see him once more before he visited upon himself the extreme penalty which his hypersensitive nature would decree.

It was shortly after noon when the car drew up in front of Huntington's home. Mrs. Thatcher, in her feverish efforts to assist, had suggested that the fugitive might have gone across to Newport to take the boat from there to New York; but Huntington figured it differently. Hamlen disliked and distrusted New York, while Boston had become a second home to him. His belongings, such as he had brought with him from Bermuda, were still in the Beacon Street house, and Huntington was sure that following the instincts of a homing pigeon he would return there by the straightest path.

Still, the doubt lingered with sufficient persistency to quicken Huntington's movements up the brownstone steps. As he let himself in, Dixon met him in the hallway.

“Mr. Hamlen,—is he here?” Huntington demanded.

“Yes, sir; he's up-stairs and very wild, sir.”

“Wild?” Huntington queried. “When did he arrive?”

“Last night, sir, about ten o'clock. When I let him in he rushed past me and went up-stairs, sir. I followed him, thinking he might need something, but he turned on me and cursed me, sir. When I ventured to take him some breakfast he swore at me again, and told me to get out of the way. I'm glad you've come, sir. I was at a loss to know what to do about luncheon.”

Huntington waited to hear no more, but mounted quickly to Hamlen's room and knocked gently on the door.

“Keep out, I tell you!” came a hoarse, guttural voice so unlike Hamlen's that it startled him. “How many times must I tell you to leave me alone!”

“It is I,—Huntington.”

There was a sound of shuffling feet, the pushing back of a chair, and the door was flung open.

“I knew you would come to me!” Hamlen cried, extending his hand eagerly. “You are the one man on earth who would stand by me!”

“Of course; but you've given me a devilish shock, old man. Come down-stairs where we can talk things over.”

“Yes, we must do that,” he assented, following. “My only fear was that you might not understand, and would delay your coming. I couldn't have waited long.”

“I came as soon as I learned the facts.”

“I should not have doubted. Now let us sit down.”

The real shock to Huntington was that so great physical change could take place within so short time. Hamlen seemed years older. His erect carriage had slackened, his face was sunken, his hands and body twitched nervously, and his eyes burned with a consuming fire. Pity filled Huntington's heart, and he leaned over and placed his hand on his friend's knee.

“You mustn't take it like this,” he said quietly. “There is something to be said on both sides.”

Hamlen looked at him with a wan smile. “I wish there were,” he said; “but let us not speak of that. To you, at least, there is no need of explanation. I told you what I dreaded,—well, the worst has come to pass; that's all there is to it.”

“No!” Huntington contradicted, determined that he should not bear all the blame; “there is much more to it than that. You and I are not the only ones who understand. Mrs. Thatcher instructed me to ask your forgiveness for her blindness. She understands, too, Hamlen, and she knows that she brought it on herself.”

“Marian asks my forgiveness!” he repeated stupefied,—“she asks me to forgive her?”

Huntington nodded.

He pressed his hands against his temples. “My God, man! Is the world all topsy-turvy! I forget my obligations toward my hostess, I am false to my responsibilities as a friend, I force myself upon a married woman whom in all honor I am bound to protect,—and she asks me to forgive her! You are mocking me, Huntington. It is unworthy of you!”

“It is the provocation she understands, Hamlen, and having unwittingly given it, she accepts the responsibility, as she should. I'm not sure that I myself am not the one to blame, for I knew better than she the forces held back only by your self-control. If I had been more insistent in my warning all might have been different.”

“That may explain, but it does not condone.”

“At least it mitigates. The beaver, innocently enough, undermines a dam in securing material to build its home, and the waters rush down to the destruction of the surrounding country. Surely you can't blame the waters! Nor can you seriously blame the beaver for not comprehending those natural laws of cause and effect.—Come, Hamlen, admit there's something in what I say, and realize that this is an accident rather than a tragedy.”

Again Hamlen tried to smile, but the expression on his face failed to reassure.

“It would be well for me if it were you upon the bench,” Hamlen said gravely. “The prisoner at the bar would receive far more leniency than he will from me! No, Huntington; I can admit nothing. I believed that I reached my lowest depth before I met you all in Bermuda. I believed my life was over,—a miserable, useless, lonely life if you will, but at least an honest one. Then you instilled hope into my dry bones. Judgment warned me not to listen to you, human weakness tempted me to make one further effort to redeem myself. I came to you here. Out of the bigness of your heart you gave me of yourself, you taught me what life really was. I acknowledge my debt, Huntington, and am grateful to you. Don't mistake that, my friend, in what I am going to say. The joy of the new experience lulled me into a sense of false security. I thought myself like other men, strong enough to hold the passionate love I have always borne that woman down, down where no one could ever see it. That was my arrogance, Huntington; for it, I am paying the price.”

“She understands now if she never did before,” Huntington reiterated. “She felt her responsibility for your lonely years, and in trying to atone made matters worse.”

“It is not her place to protect me,” Hamlen continued with conviction. “Take your own simile, with which you try to ease my sense of shame: even though the waters are not to be blamed, what do people do with them? Do they let them continue on their path of destruction? No, dear friend, your arguments are kindly meant, but untenable. I intend to put those waters where they will do no further harm.”

Huntington's face set in determined lines. “So you will dare to assume the prerogatives of man and God?” he demanded sternly.

Hamlen had never seen Huntington in this mood, and his eyes shifted uneasily as they met the unflinching gaze of his friend.

“There will be no scandal, Huntington,” he said quietly; “I shall not thus repay your royal hospitality. There are some matters I must turn over to you, and as my friend I know you will accept them. Then I will grasp your hand for the last time, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me back the life I had abandoned, and pass on,—whither, it concerns myself alone.”

“What are the matters you have in mind?” Huntington asked, hoping that some word of Hamlen's might give him inspiration.

“First, as to my property,” Hamlen replied with returning confidence as his friend showed willingness to listen. “Here is my will.” He drew a folded sheet from his pocket, on which he had written perhaps twenty lines. “Please look it over, and tell me if it is legally drawn when the necessary signatures are added.”

Huntington took the paper, with difficulty focusing his mind upon the written words.

“Yes,” he said, looking up at length; “this document is wonderfully simple and direct in its statements. The only possible attack upon it would be to raise an issue as to your mental status at the time you drew it up.”

“Could any one question that?”

“Your later actions will determine,” Huntington said significantly.

Hamlen laughed nervously. “Fortunately there is no one left who would have any interest to contest.—As I told you, the bulk of my property is now in liquid form on deposit in New York, which simplifies your work as executor. That, you see, I want to give to Harvard.”

He paused for a moment and became meditative. “How little I thought, six months ago, that I should become a benefactor of the college I then despised! That is your work, my friend,—making me realize my obligation.—Hold on a minute: I want to add to that document! My bequest shall go to Harvard as the 'William Montgomery Huntington Foundation, given by a friend, the income to be used to foster larger acquaintance and closer intimacy amongst the members of each freshman class.' Make a note of that, will you? There may be other changes.”

Huntington made the necessary notations. It was best to humor him until his entire plan was outlined.

“Now, as to the estate in Bermuda,” he went on. “You see what I've done with it,—but have I been quite delicate? This whole affair, and its outcome, will be humiliating to that sensitive little girl, and this might be a constant reminder. I would like her to have it; she would appreciate my trees and my flowers,—their fragrance might help her to forget my grave offense. Then again, perhaps Marian would see in this act an effort on my part to atone. I couldn't leave it to her, but do you think the girl would understand my motive?”

“Better than any one I know,” Huntington replied.

Hamlen seemed to have reached the end of his elaboration, and was silent.

“How soon is this remarkable document to become operative?” Huntington demanded.

“Six months from to-day if you do not hear from me to the contrary, or upon receiving proof of death.”

“All right,” Huntington rejoined with apparent complacency. “I'll have it drafted in proper form and you can execute it to-morrow or next day. Now listen to me.”

Hamlen looked up at him anxiously. Everything was progressing so well that the new tone in Huntington's voice gave him apprehension.

“It is always well to have these matters provided for, and if you haven't a will it is time you drew one up. As to the disposition of your property, it is yours to do with as you like, and I appreciate the compliment you have paid to me. Up to this point I have no right to interfere.”

Hamlen stiffened at the suggestion of interference. “There are limits,” he said quietly, “even to the rights of a friendship such as ours.”

“True; but we haven't begun to reach them yet. You acknowledge—don't you?—that you still have an obligation to our Alma Mater which is unsatisfied?”

“I think I have acknowledged that in a substantial way,” Hamlen replied, surprised.

“What can you think of an Alma Mater which would accept money in exchange for the life of one of her sons? Do you consider her as mercenary as that?”

“When the son has forfeited his right to life—”

“Who are you to take upon yourself the judicial ermine, Hamlen?” Huntington said sternly. “You have years before you yet to devote to her welfare. If you are a man, fulfil your obligations during your natural lifetime, and then supplement your labors by the princely gift you have in mind. If you will insist on assuming all the blame for this regrettable affair, don't let it make you shirk your duty, but go at life again with an added incentive to pay your debt.”

“You demand of me what is beyond my strength. I can't go on.”

“That is cowardice, Hamlen.—Forgive the word,” he added quickly as he saw the color mount to his friend's cheeks, “forgive the cruelty; but I must make you see yourself.”

“It takes some courage to carry through what I have in mind,” he protested.

“Not the slightest in the world,” Huntington contradicted. “Just pull a wretched little trigger, pump half an ounce of lead into your diseased brain, and you think your troubles are over. I know the pleasures of this world, my friend, but I am entirely ignorant of those of the next. Let us take our chances on these when our time comes, not before. No, Hamlen, the easy thing is to side-step our difficulties here; it is the hard thing to stand up in our boots and say, 'Yes, I've broken your laws, I've outraged your sensibilities; but I'm going to atone for what I've done.' You have that strength, Hamlen, and I sha'n't let you pass it up.”

“I'm sorry I waited for you!” Hamlen retorted sullenly.

“No, you're not; for you are an honest man.” It was hard for Huntington to be brutal, but this was the moment when Hamlen must be forced to yield if at all. “You said a moment ago that I gave you back the life you had abandoned; then that life belongs to me. If you destroy it, you rob me of something which is mine, and that is theft. I don't care whether you agree with me or not, but I demand of you my property, on which you gave up your claim. If I leave it in your hands will you protect it for me, and deliver it to me when I am ready to make use of it?”

This was a new idea to Hamlen, and he could not meet it. He was only conscious that Huntington was taking full advantage of his influence over him, and was driving him on relentlessly. He shifted his eyes uncomfortably, and in them was bitter resentment.

“You leave me no alternative,” he said helplessly. “For God's sake tell me what you want!”

“I don't know,” Huntington admitted frankly; “but for the present give me your promise that you will stay here until I reach my decision. I must go back to Sagamore to relieve the anxiety of those who are suffering on your account. When I return I shall hope to have found the solution. Have I your promise?”

Hamlen leaned forward, burying his face in his hands.

“You are too strong for me,” he muttered. “I must do as you wish.”

Huntington laid his hand kindly on the bowed head.

XXXVI

       * * * * *

In spite of Mrs. Thatcher's watchfulness, Billy had seen Merry and met his Waterloo. Blissfully unaware of the momentous happenings about him, and determined to “get even” with “the Gorgon,” the boy developed a plot of his own which was perfect in conception barring one important detail: he and Merry were to slip away in a motor-car, dash over to Fall River to a young clergyman he knew, have the knot tied before interference was possible, and then return to Sagamore Hall for the parental blessing. The question of license occurred to him, but that was a mere detail which could be arranged on the way over.

It was several days after this brilliant idea came to Billy before he found opportunity to take Merry into his confidence, but the more he thought it over the more strongly it appealed. The fact that she seemed even less responsive than usual did not discourage him, for girls, he had discovered, always act exactly contrary to their real feelings in affairs of this kind. The details were so absurdly simple and the outcome would be so eminently satisfactory that the possibility of failure became more and more remote. But, as the strength of any chain is determined by its weakest link, it was in this one omitted detail that Billy's plan slipped up; the idea did not appeal to Merry with sufficient force even to be given serious consideration.

As a matter of fact the boy could not have selected a less opportune moment for presenting his forlorn hope. Merry had reached that ecstatic height to which martyrs attain. Joan of Arc was no more zealous to sacrifice herself to save Orleans than was Merry to pay the debt of honor her mother owed to Hamlen. It may be that the Maid was influenced in her heart by other motives beyond the “heavenly voices” which are generally accredited; it may be that Merry was more susceptible to the “call” she believed had come to her for some reason other than a willingness for martyrdom,—but in both cases the sincerity of the response was too genuine to be questioned. Billy's infatuated wooing seemed to her like sacrilege, and his mad plan for elopement too ridiculous for discussion.

“Let us be friends, dear Billy,” she said to him sweetly and gently,—“just friends, you and Philip and I. We'll always have the best of times together, help each other over the hard places, and sympathize with every sorrow which comes to any one of us.”

“No!” he protested vigorously, kicking viciously at an inoffensive root protruding slightly beneath his foot. “Nix on this brother and sister game; there's nothing in it.”

“I need you as a friend, Billy,—I need you this very minute!”

Billy pricked up his ears at the words and at the pathetic note in Merry's voice; but he did not intend to be caught off his guard.

“What do you mean 'need me as a friend'? Want me to run an errand for you? All right, off I go.”

“No, Billy; I need your sympathy. We're old pals, and ought to stand by each other.”

He looked at her with a dawning understanding.

“Merry,” he said, with the conviction of one who has made a great discovery,—“you're unhappy!”

“Perhaps,” she admitted; “I'm not sure.”

“I knew it!” he declared with satisfaction. “You are unhappy and I know the reason why: you're in love with me without realizing it. You're fighting against your destiny and you don't understand what the trouble is. That's why you are unhappy.”

“No, no, Billy; that isn't it.”

“Yes, it is; you take my word for it. We'll just slip it over on the whole bunch, get married, and then you'll see. You'll be as happy as a lark.”

“Oh! Billy, I do wish you'd be serious!”

“Serious? ha! I should say I was serious! And to show you how sure I am I'm right, I'll make you a sporting proposition: if our getting married doesn't shake your fit of blues then we'll call the whole thing off. What do you say?”

Merry laughed in spite of herself. “You certainly are the most impossible boy! You speak of getting married as if it were a set of tennis.”

“It's easy enough to get a divorce. Why don't you take a chance? Come on, be a sport!”

When he found this wooing ineffective, Billy adopted the tragic motif. “Every time I think I've picked a rose,” he declared disconsolately, “it turns out to be poison ivy; and here I am, stung again!”

It was unfortunate for Billy that Merry could never take him seriously. While the boy poured out his youthful protestations she was gentle and considerate, but her appeal to his reason proved futile because no such thing existed. Later, when alone, the absurdity of the situation gave her an outlet, and she laughed quietly to herself. Poor, dear, easy-going Billy! She would have spared him even these imaginary heart-pangs if she could, but the real meaning of life and its responsibilities was yet for him to learn.

Constant in the purpose to which she had consecrated herself, Merry received her mother on that eventful morning with mind prepared to accept the supreme test. She had been standing at the window before her chamber door opened, looking out across the broad lawn to the wide expanse of water sparkling in the morning sun. She had watched a stately four-master sailing majestically by; she had watched the little pleasure craft, darting in and out as if playing at hide and seek. The great ship pursued its dignified course, following the track laid down for it by the mariner's chart; the frolicsome boats went hither or thither, whichever way the favoring wind filled their sails. The great ship by holding steadfastly to her course would eventually reach that port toward which she had set out, with her mission fulfilled; the little boats would return to the moorings from which they fluttered with no other purpose accomplished than the pleasure of the passing moment. Yes, Merry had told herself, it was purpose which counted. She had dashed out over and over again on brief excursions, but even her serious errands had been undertaken because they gave her pleasure. Unless the course be charted, unless the goal be predetermined, there could be no permanence, no majestic dignity to any performance. The time had come when she would permit no wavering. She would show her confidence in the experience of the older mariner, who had plotted out the chart, by following it without the semblance of a doubt.

“I'm ready, Momsie,” she said brightly, turning toward Mrs. Thatcher,—“why, Momsie! what's the matter? It's all right, dearie. I'm sure we'll be very, very happy. I'm ready to see Mr. Hamlen whenever you say. It's all right, dearie.”

Mrs. Thatcher sat down wearily, and Merry slipped to the floor at her feet, looking wonderingly up into her strained face. Marian leaned forward impulsively and kissed her, resting her cheek against the girl's face.

“My darling!” she said in a low, tense voice. “I have made a horrible mistake!”

The spoken words started a flood of tears which until then Marian had been able to restrain. The full weight of the responsibility again rushed over her. She had dared to interfere in two lives which should have been allowed to find their own expression, she had dared to pit her human judgment against Nature. What would be the final outcome? With Merry, she could not believe it would result in anything more serious than a further confusion of ideals, but with Hamlen she knew well how disastrous the effect must be. How could she make matters clear to this dear child when her own brain was so bewildered!

But when the tears had relieved the tension, and Marian felt the sympathetic encouragement of the heart beating against her own, the mother love, as always, rose triumphant over mental and physical limitations. During the next hours, amid confidences and revelations which enabled each at last to understand the other, mother and daughter experienced that rare communion which had been denied them, but which was theirs by right. The sacrifice Merry had been ready to make accomplished its purpose without necessity of execution; the sincerity of her mother's purpose became clear, and the girl discovered the natural refuge where she might always find relief from overpowering perplexities. When they went down-stairs together, with arms around each other, and strolled out into the rose-garden, there was a new meaning to the sunlight and to the fragrance of the flowers. Marian saw in it a promise that her morning supplication might not have been in vain.

       * * * * *

The telephone message from Huntington that Hamlen had been located and that all was well relieved Marian's apprehensions, and left her with such thankfulness and joy that she was able to join her remaining guests in the day's activities. How all could be well she was unable to comprehend, for the shock to Hamlen's nature must have been too great for easy convalescence; but at all events the worst had not happened, and until Huntington returned no further details could be obtained. Merry, too, entered into the family life for the first time with any show of interest. Philip and Billy, who now alone remained of Philip's friends, annexed themselves in the absence of something better to do. Billy was still disgruntled, but his malady seemed to be located in his head rather than in the region of his heart.

Activity was an absolute necessity to Marian, so she announced that instead of the usual dinner they would picnic on the shore at a spot perhaps two miles distant from Sagamore Hall. Not that this required physical exertion for her, but it was a novelty which would prove diverting. As the sun sank low, the little party boarded the electric launch.

“Excuse me for asking, Marian, but where does the picnic come in?” Edith demanded, noting the total absence of baskets and bottles and the other usual paraphernalia. “I don't want to criticise, but I'm no air-plant.”

Marian laughed, “Have faith,” she replied. “A relief train is even now on its way to save you from starvation.”

“Too bad for Huntington and Hamlen to miss all this,” Cosden remarked, hoping to call forth some word of explanation.

“If you vote it a success, we may repeat it after they return,” she answered evasively. “Perhaps then we can include Harry.”

“That reminds me,” Edith broke in, looking vindictively toward Cosden. “Perhaps you will tell me why Harry rushed down here like a lost soul and then back again to New York. Mr. Cosden is very mysterious about it, and my curiosity is aroused.”

“There isn't any mystery,” Marian assured her. “There were some papers he had forgotten to take.”

“Why didn't he telephone me to bring them to him?” Philip demanded. “Why is it he won't let me go to the office, when he promised me I could help him as soon as college was over?”

Mrs. Thatcher looked at Cosden questioningly. “Is there anything more than Harry told me?” she asked him.

Cosden knew that Thatcher was still trying to keep his family in ignorance of the strain under which he was laboring. It was for him to give such details as he chose rather than for his guest.

“I don't know how much you already know, Mrs. Thatcher,” he replied with apparent candor. “These are strenuous days in Wall Street, and no one can tell what is going to happen next. As for you, Philip, don't be impatient. This is no time to initiate a youngster into any business. War is breaking loose in Europe, and if Germany and England lock horns there will be something doing.”

“War!” Philip cried. “Do you really think there will be a war?”

“The idea!” Edith sniffed. “Those little savage tribes in the Balkans may call each other names and throw things around, but Germany and England are civilized nations. How perfectly absurd!”

“If there is a war, I want to get in it,” Philip insisted. “I've always wanted to go to war, and never supposed I would have a chance.”

“I'll go with you,” announced Billy with sudden enthusiasm, looking significantly at Merry as he saw the solution of his troubles. “I don't care what side I'm on or against whom I fight. Let's enlist together, Phil.”

“You couldn't fight except for your own country, you silly,” Merry laughed.

“Of course I could,” he insisted stoutly. “You never think I can do what I say I can, but I'll show you. I can be a soldier of fortune like Robert Clay, or I can be a Canadian and get shot up as much as I like.”

“But this isn't in a story, Billy, and Robert Clay was. More than that, you're no Canadian.”

“Anyhow I was in Canada once.”

“Don't mind Billy,” Phil interrupted. “I'm really serious. There must be some way I could get into it. You know, Mother, how much I've always wanted to.”

“Yes, my boy; I do know,” Mrs. Thatcher answered. “Ever since you were old enough to play with toys it has always been soldiers and wars. I have thanked God that war was a horror of the past, for I know how hard it would be to hold you back if the opportunity offered.”

“If he goes, then I go with him,” Billy said with decision.

“You both had better wait until war is declared by somebody against somebody else,” Cosden suggested.

“You don't think they'll patch it up, do you?” Philip inquired anxiously.

“Let us hope so,” Mrs. Thatcher answered; “but this is a pleasure expedition. Let us banish thoughts of war.”

As the launch rounded a rocky promontory a roaring fire was disclosed burning on the beach, around which several of the house servants were already busied in preparing supper. Back from the beach, beneath great spreading oaks, a cloth was laid on the ground, to which the contents of the hampers were being transferred. The usual limitations of camp life were conspicuous by their absence, the fascinations were emphasized by the marvelous smoothness with which everything was conducted.

“I don't call this picnicking,” Edith declared, after her first taste of chowder. “Plant a forest of trees in Sherry's ball-room, paint an ocean on the wall, fake a moon rising over the orchestra stage, everybody sit cross-legged on the floor,—and there you have it. Sherry certainly couldn't improve on the service or the food.”

“I can't find even an ant on mine,” Billy complained, corroborating Edith's praise.

“Champagne like this is far too good for the common people,” added Cosden turning to Mrs. Thatcher. “How did you do it? It is the apotheosis of gipsy life, and makes me reluctant to return to civilization.”

Billy edged around until he gained a seat next to Merry. “This feast might have been in honor of our marriage,” he whispered. “It's all your fault that I'm going to war, and if I'm shot up I'll come back and haunt you.”

“Don't, Billy!” Merry sputtered, laughing and choking,—“you'll make me swallow this the wrong way. There—” she continued as she recovered; “that's better. Now don't be silly or you'll spoil our fun. We are going to be good friends always, and that's all there is to it.”

“You wait. You've been lots happier since I told you that you loved me, now haven't you? I know. You think it's a joke because you think I'm a joke, but when once I've gone to war you'll understand. I'll bet you even that you'll chase after me as a Red Cross nurse, and that I'll die with my head in your lap. Do you take me?”

Phil approached near enough to put an end to the proposition without Merry's reply.

“Do you suppose there's anything in this war talk?” he queried, sitting down beside them.

“Not a thing,” his sister replied. “That would be too absurd.”

“If there is, I could at least go as a correspondent,—that is, if Dad could spare me. I'm terribly keen about this.”

“How could you work me in?” Billy demanded. “I couldn't do any newspaper stunt.”

“How about taking pictures to illustrate my articles?”

“Great! I can shoot a Kodak like anything. Then it's all settled that we go together?”

“Suppose there isn't any war?” Merry persisted in throwing cold water upon their plans.

Both boys looked gloomily at each other. Then Billy had an inspiration.

“If there isn't,” he declared with decision, “then Phil and I will dash over there and stir one up. We could make faces at them or do something and get one started. That's the idea, isn't it, Phil?”

“You make me tired!” Philip retorted. “This is too serious a matter to joke about.”

As the older boy moved away disgustedly Billy again whispered to Merry. “Phil is just as bad as you,” he said disconsolately. “He doesn't know seriousness when he sees it. Come on! Take a chance and be a sport!”

The boy's persistency was the only jarring note in the whole experience, and the extent of that was too limited to produce lasting effect. The picnickers watched the sun set and the moon rise, then, filled with the calm delights which Nature so generously shared with them, and over-satiated with the creature comforts supplied by their hostess, they re-embarked in the launch and returned to Sagamore Hall. To their surprise, as they walked across the great lawn to the house, they saw some one coming down to meet them.

“Mr. Huntington has returned!” Marian cried, and she hastened toward him in advance of the others.

“Why, Harry!” she exclaimed surprised to discover that it was her husband. “How did you manage to get back to-night? I'm so glad to see you!”

Cosden hurried forward, sensing important revelations in Thatcher's return. The new-comer grasped his hand cordially, and his face even in the moonlight showed a relief from the long strain.

“With your help, old man, I've pulled through,” he whispered later. “The stock-markets of the world are closed indefinitely. Germany and England are straining to jump at each other's throats. The history of the world starts revision from to-day, and now I'm going to stay down here for a while and let other people worry!”

XXXVII

       * * * * *

Knowing that his telephone message would allay Mrs. Thatcher's greatest anxiety, Huntington made no effort to return to the shore that night, and when morning came it was a question whether he could go at all. He knew that Hamlen would keep his promise so long as he remained master of himself, but the roving eyes and the twitching nerves warned Huntington that he must not place too great reliance upon this expectation. All through the hours of darkness, without his friend's knowledge, he watched over him, sharing in sympathetic silence the suffering which the tossing body endured in expressing the tortures of the mind. When morning came at last Hamlen was quieter, but this condition was due to the exhaustion of high fever rather than to even temporary relief. Hastily summoning a physician, Huntington watched the examination, becoming more and more apprehensive as the expression of concern deepened on the doctor's face. Together they stepped into the hall, where the doctor shook his head gravely.

“Tell me something of what led up to this,” he demanded.

Huntington briefly sketched Hamlen's history, and the climax.

“It will be nip and tuck,” the doctor said crisply. “His resistance is low, but he'll probably pull through. What I'm afraid of is his reason. We'll break this fever now, and then you must find something to interest him outside of himself. That is his only salvation.”

“I wish I thought I could,” Huntington replied doubtfully. “There will be no help from him, for the last thing he desires is to live.”

“But if to live is to—”

“I know,—I shall do my best.”

A week later Hamlen's life was out of danger, but at times his mental wanderings confirmed the doctor's worst apprehensions. Yet Huntington came to dread the depression of the saner moments more than the vagrant hallucinations. The dramatic details of the unleashing of the war-dogs of one nation after another should have been enough to arouse his interest, but his only comment was, “It is a fitting end to a hollow world, with its thin veneer of sham civilization; would to God it had come sooner!”

Finally it seemed safe to leave the patient in the care of the trained nurse, and Huntington made his deferred return to Sagamore Hall. Marian had kept in touch with Hamlen's progress as well as she could over the telephone, but there was much which her heart craved to learn more intimately. The illness afforded a simple explanation to the other guests of the peculiar disappearance of both men, so Huntington's confidences needed to be told to Mrs. Thatcher alone. Still, there was a single exception. One of the first questions Huntington asked of Marian was whether Merry knew the whole truth, and when he learned from both how much each had gained from their mutual confidences he insisted that the girl hear from him the details of what had happened since.

He told his story simply, trying to spare Marian and making as light as possible of the part which he himself had played, yet the whole-souled devotion he had given his friend could be concealed no more than the serious results of Mrs. Thatcher's persistency. Huntington had claimed from him the life which would have been forfeited, promising to make good use of it; now that it was at his disposal, what was he to do with it? He admitted freely to Mrs. Thatcher and Merry that as yet he had found no solution.

“This necessity of doing your splendid work over again is but one of the results of my culpable stupidity,” Marian said penitently. “When I think of it, it seems as if I should go mad!”

Huntington rejoiced in the change which he found in Mrs. Thatcher. The sudden view she had gained of herself was all she needed to understand that one lack which no one could have made her see or comprehend. Huntington felt the closer relationship between her and Merry, and he believed the girl had found the answer to her question.

“We must forget our mistakes,” he said, anxious to relieve Marian, “except when remembering them will prevent a repetition. We all have tried to do our full duty by this abnormal personality, and our shortcomings should not cause us to question the sincerity of our acts.”

“You are too generous,” Mrs. Thatcher replied; “I shall never cease to hold myself accountable, never!”

“Don't, Momsie!” Merry begged. “Perhaps even now we can suggest something which will undo the harm.”

“We must,” Huntington said soberly. “Now, if I may finish out my visit with you it will be a real relief after these depressing days, and we will await the inspiration.”

“We are counting on your doing so,” Marian replied promptly. “It comforts me to have you share this time with me. I can't tell Harry the whole story yet. And Billy is waiting for you. He and Philip are crazed by this talk of war, and are trying to find some way to get into it. Of course it is ridiculous, but boys are irrepressible creatures. I don't need to tell you that!”

“I'm not so sure that it is ridiculous,” Huntington surprised them both by saying. “I don't quite see where they could break into this war, but as for Billy I believe a first-hand knowledge of these terrible experiences would go far toward making a man of him.”

“You surely wouldn't have them get into the fighting!” Mrs. Thatcher exclaimed.

“No, not that; but there are other ways. I heard some talk of forming ambulance squads to send to France. If they do that, I might urge Billy's father to let him go.”

“Still, there would be danger, wouldn't there?” Merry asked.

“Some, perhaps; but there is danger in the life which surrounds these boys now. I am much concerned about Billy. Unless something happens to shake him up he will never know what life really is. The nobility of heroism, an every-day occurrence on the firing-line, is something which could not fail to leave its impress on these youngsters. It is worth thinking over.”

“I couldn't let Philip go,” Marian said with the old-time finality in her voice.

“Perhaps not,” Huntington replied with a significant look. “It may be most unwise; but if Nature should seem to point strongly in that direction we must be careful not to thwart it.”

Marian flushed. “You are right, Mr. Huntington,” she said with frank understanding; “I shall be careful, you may be sure.”

“Where are the boys now?” Huntington asked. “I would prefer to postpone the discussion with them until I am rested. I'm not used to problems, you know, and lately they seem to have concentrated themselves on me. Help me to escape them for another hour!”

“Take Mr. Huntington down to the water-garden,” Marian suggested smiling; “no one will think of looking for you there.”

“Would you like to go?” Merry asked him.

“Nothing would rest me more.”

“Won't you come, Momsie?”

“No, dear; you must do the honors in my stead.”

They wandered through the formal garden in silence, down the shaded bosquet, and across a bit of lawn to the fresh-water garden which was built only a little back from the shore itself. A miniature torii, from whose crossbeam hung a replica in straw of the mystic shimenawa, marked the entrance, sounding the motivation for the Oriental note within. They passed through this and walked between the rows of Japanese maples which formed an avenue ending in a vista of the sea. In the moment they had transported themselves, for within the limitations marked by the avenue of trees there was nothing to suggest anything save the East: there were the little shrines surrounded by Oriental flower-pots; there was a tiny lake, crossed by an arched stone bridge, through which could be seen the luxuriant bloom of the lotus and other rare aquatic plants, brilliant in their coloring and foliage, growing in and out of the water and over the rocks with well-planned irregularity; there was the lilliputian grove of dwarfed trees impudently challenging comparison with their taller neighbors.

“I'm glad you brought me here,” Huntington said as they seated themselves upon a curiously-carved stone. “Other parts of the estate are far more impressive, but you have no spot which appeals to me more by virtue of its beauty.”

“I love it too,” the girl acknowledged. “Almost every one looks at it once or twice and admires it, but no one seems to care to linger here as I do. I am sure to be alone, so I come almost every day to read Lafcadio Hearn and to dream of Nippon.”

“I understand,” Huntington said quietly; “and I'll warrant you find yourself spending much of your time gazing at the surface of that little lake.”

“Yes,” she exclaimed surprised; “but how do you know that, and why should I do it?”

“It is not so mysterious, after all,” he answered smiling. “I have no psychic powers, but I know a little of the Oriental teachings: the surface of the lake is a mirror, symbolic of illusion and reflecting our souls, in which alone we must seek the Buddha.—But to-day it is of a modern divinity I would prefer to speak. These have been hard weeks for you, Merry, and I have sympathized with you.”

“Why,—yes; in a way,” she admitted. “But like everything else I do, they haven't amounted to anything, have they?”

“Haven't they?” he asked pointedly. “Isn't some of that unrest gone now that you and the dear mother understand each other?”

“Of course. That means everything to me, but again it is I who benefit. Oh! Mr. Huntington, I want so much to do something for somebody else, and no matter how hard I try it always turns out that I am the gainer. I believed I had the opportunity at last, and again I was mistaken. But this time it wasn't my fault, was it? At least I was ready to do my part.”

“Don't you know that you can't try to do something for some one else without having it come back to you?”

“Do you expect that what you are doing for Mr. Hamlen will bring you a reward?”

“It has already given me your friendship. Isn't that enough?”

The color came to Merry's face, and she turned her glance away. “What can that mean to you who have so many friendships?” she asked.

“It is the friendship I value most among them all.”

She looked up at him quickly, startled by the intensity of his tone. “You can't mean that,” she said. “To me it is different. You brought into my life something which it never had and never would have had except for you. To me your friendship is the grandest thing I know, but what can mine mean to you? Something fine and splendid must come in return for the months you have given Mr. Hamlen. I wish—” she hesitated a moment but then continued bravely—“yes, I wish it might even bring you back the girl you loved—and found too late!”

“Merry! child! what are you saying!” he cried.

“Have I hurt you again?”

“Not hurt me; but you make it hard for me to be fair to our friendship.”

“Can't we be friends—because of her?”

Huntington turned to her gently, taking her hand in his. His face showed the force of the emotion which fought for supremacy, but the calmness with which he spoke evidenced his control.

“I have tried to be fair to our friendship,” he repeated, “but you must not misunderstand. I wonder if it would be more kind to tell you the truth, even though it cost me what I value so.”

“Don't,—please don't!” she begged.

“I fear I must,” he said with decision, “no matter what it costs. Whether this strain with Hamlen has weakened my resolve, or because the romance of the Japanese Benten hovers over this spot and bids me speak, I must tell you, little girl, that my friendship has only been a blind to cover something far deeper, which I have no right to offer you. The time has come for you to know that, for it will tell you what you are to me. I would relinquish all I possess to turn back the years until they gave me the right to ask you to be my wife.”

She started to her feet and tried to speak, but he stopped her.

“You don't need to answer,” he insisted. “I understand only too well.”

“But the girl you met too late—”

“Was you, dear child! I am a generation ahead of my time; otherwise I believe it might have been.”

He smiled as he always did when deeply moved, but this time the sadness showed through the mask. As the full comprehension of his words came to her, Merry's color faded but she looked into his face with a woman's candor.

“Is the difference in our ages the only reason?” she asked.

“Alas! that is enough!”

“No, no!” she cried impulsively. “You wouldn't let that stand between us!”

“Do you realize what you are saying, Merry? It can't be that you understand!”

“I do! I do!” she cried. “Please don't stop. Say it to me!”

He placed his arm around her and drew her to him. “Can it possibly be?” he demanded incredulously. “Can this really have come to me?”

Merry hid her face on his shoulder. “Say it!” she insisted, “please,—please say it!”

“Merry—child—I love you!”

Her arm crept about his neck, and then her radiant face came out from its hiding place, and held itself ready for the consecration.

XXXVIII

       * * * * *

They lingered in happy disregard of passing time, each seeming to fear disillusionment if they deserted their magic garden. Huntington no longer felt the oppression of the years, Merry no longer drifted from her anchorage.

“Monty,” she whispered slyly,—“dare I call you Monty?”

“If you don't, I shall call you incorrigible!”

“Monty,—who is Benten?”

She asked the question so hesitatingly, as if ashamed to admit her ignorance, that he laughed.

“Benten?” he repeated after her. “Surely you know Benten! She is none other than an adorable Japanese lady of antiquity who is known as the deity of Beauty, the divinity of Love and the Goddess of Eloquence. I have no doubt she has other attributes, but those are enough for us, aren't they, little sweetheart?”

“Oh, Monty,—you know so much!” she sighed. “It is going to be a terrible strain!”

She seemed very winsome in her present mood, and he smiled happily.

“The strain will be on me, dear heart,” he protested. “I have assumed wisdom all these years with no danger of being unmasked; now you will find me out.

“I'm glad it happened here in this garden,” she said contentedly. “I seem to feel more at home in this atmosphere. Benten shall be my patron saint from this day.”

“Shall we spend our honeymoon in Japan?” he asked. “Why not keep this setting to the end?”

She clapped her hands. “Splendid!” she cried. “That will be Paradise;—and you'll teach me all you know about everything?”

“Why not let your Hearn teach you of Japan? He knows it all. He would tell you, too, that Benten is also Goddess of the Sea,” he pointed to the brilliant spot of color at the end of the avenue, now made spectacular by the radiance of the setting sun. “He would understand why, under this influence, I could not keep from telling you my secret; for 'is not the sea most ancient and most excellent of speakers,—the eternal poet, chanter of that mystic hymn whose rhythm shakes the world, whose mighty syllables no man may learn?'”

“Oh, Monty,” she murmured, nestling closer to him in blissful happiness, “please go on. To hear you talk is just like listening to a beautiful symphony. And to think you're going to share it all with me! Let us stay right here forever!”

“Mer-ry!” came Philip's call across the lawn.

“Uncle Mon-ty!” Billy halloed.

“There come those horrid boys,” she pouted, sitting up straight. “Why are boys, anyway?”

“You told me once that it was only when they became serious that you worried about them,” he teased her.

“They are serious now,—they've found out you're here, and they're going to talk war with you.—I don't want to give you up even for a moment!”

“Nor I you,” he whispered, as the boys were close at hand; “but we must keep our secret a little longer.”

They rose and walked up the avenue to meet them.

“Mother said to wait because you were tired, but Billy couldn't, so I came with him,” Philip explained lamely.

“I am never too tired to receive a welcome like this—”

“We want your advice,” Billy interrupted.

“Won't it wait until we get to the house?”

“No,” Billy insisted; “it's urgent. Phil and I want to go to the war, and if we don't hurry they may call it off and then we'll be rooked.”

“I wish there was a chance they might,” Huntington said feelingly. “There's no fear of that, boy. They are in for a long and terrible struggle.”

“Great!” cried Philip. “I've always wanted to go to war, and I never believed there would be another.”

“I'm going because I want to get shot up just to spite Merry,” added Billy, remembering his grievance and looking at the girl gloomily.

“The fact that you realize so little what you are saying is the greatest argument you could advance in favor of your going,” Huntington said, looking at them gravely.

“I didn't mean to speak as I did,” Philip replied apologetically. “It is a terrible thing, of course, but since it has come I am crazy to be a part of it. I believe I'll run away if Mother and Dad don't let me go!”

“I meant just what I said,” Billy insisted stoutly. “Merry is very unhappy,—haven't you noticed it?”

“Do I look so now?” she laughed at him.

“You shouldn't interrupt,” he reproved her; “it isn't polite.—She doesn't know what is the matter with her, but I do.”

“What is the matter, Billy?” Huntington inquired seriously. “If I knew, perhaps I could help her.”

“Of course you could; that's why I'm telling you. She's in love with me and she doesn't know it.”

“By Jove!” Huntington exclaimed, looking at Merry's beaming face as she walked beside him, and then at the serious features of the boy on the other side. “I'm afraid I can't help, after all.”

“Yes, you can,” Billy insisted confidently. “Merry will believe anything you tell her. Now if I go to war and get shot up she will realize her destiny, and will come to the hospital over there somewhere and be a Red Cross nurse, and fix me all up. Then we'll be married,—unless my wound is fatal and I die,” he added, gulping down the pathos which this painful picture stirred within himself.

“I can't stay with you, Billy, if you harrow up my feelings like this,” Huntington declared. “It isn't fair to take advantage of your sympathetic old uncle.”

“He's just talking in bunches, Mr. Huntington,” Philip said disgustedly. “You mustn't mind what he says. His mouth is full of mush all the time now. I'm sick of it!”

“How about my feelings, Billy?” Merry demanded. “Have you no pity for me?”

“Why should I?” he retorted. “It's all your fault.—Uncle Monty, wouldn't you like to have Merry in the family?”

“I certainly would,” was the frank response spoken with a sincerity which gave the boy unbounded encouragement.

“Now you've said something!” Billy exclaimed and he turned to Merry with a gesture of finality! “I want you in the family, Uncle Monty wants you, Phil wants me for a brother-in-law—”

“I'm not so sure,” Philip interrupted.

“Oh, yes, he does,” Billy continued unabashed.—“So it's up to you. Will you make us all happy, or will you send me to meet my fate amid the horrors of war?”

“That'll be about all of that,” Philip said, scowling. “We came out here to talk war and not nonsense. I won't stand for it!”

“We mustn't get these two great questions confused, Billy,” Huntington said soothingly. “I have something to tell you later which may solve one of them, and we should approach the other with a calm and judicial mind. I haven't any right to advise you, Philip, for your mother and father probably have definite ideas which must be respected; but if a way could be found for Billy to have some of the experiences over there without running too much danger, I should be inclined to throw my influence in favor of his going.”

“Hurrah!” Billy cried.

“That is all I could possibly expect, Mr. Huntington,” Philip acknowledged. “If Billy is allowed to go, I'm sure Mother and Dad will consent.”

“Very good. I promise you to look into it carefully, and Billy will keep you posted as to the result.”

“What's the other solution?” Billy asked suspiciously.

“I'll tell you later.—Now let me speak with the others. There is nothing more for us to talk about, is there?”

“I'm sorry I spoke so lightly about the war,” Philip said, grasping Huntington's hand as they separated. “I have fighting in my blood somewhere, and I'm so excited over it all that I forget myself sometimes.”

“War means to forget one's self at all times, my boy,” Huntington answered kindly. “With all its savagery, with all its brutal return to primeval instincts, the sacrifices and the heroism it calls for ennoble those who are drawn into its hideous vortex. No man can once feel this and ever again look upon life in a small way. That is why, under certain circumstances, I might favor Billy's desire.”

“That is my second desire,” Billy carefully explained; “my first is that Merry become a member of our family.”

“To that,” his uncle replied, “I have already given my unqualified approval.”

The boys left them and they continued to the house. Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher met them at the steps.

“I had begun to fear that you and Merry were lost,” Marian said, after Huntington greeted his host.

“We have been lost a long time,” Huntington replied, with a meaning they did not comprehend; “now we have indeed found ourselves.”

He took Merry's hand in his and stood for a moment looking at them both.

“Would this time be inopportune,” he continued, “to ask if you can spare this little girl to some one who loves her very dearly?”

“So Billy has persuaded you to become his champion?” Mrs. Thatcher said with some annoyance. “I didn't think Merry cared for him. He is so irresponsible, Mr. Huntington. It is difficult to refuse anything you ask, but couldn't the matter wait?”

“The boy isn't grown up enough to think of such things yet,” Thatcher added.

Huntington smiled quietly at the natural mistake. “It is for one who is perhaps too far grown up I stand as champion, but I am hoping you will not look upon that as an obstacle. I did for many months, but Merry has a way of making one forget his years.”

“You!” Marian cried.

“You don't mean it, my dear fellow!” Thatcher held out his hand cordially.

“We children ask the parental blessing.”

Merry slipped by, into her mother's arms.

“Oh! Momsie! I am happy at last!”

“You have certainly kept us in the dark!” Marian exclaimed, recovering from her surprise.

Then the pleasure in her face changed to one of concern. “You have loved Merry, yet stood aside these weeks?”

“I could not believe that she could care for me.”

“Almost a triple tragedy!” Marian said soberly, so low that only Huntington heard her. “Can any one ever forgive me!”

“Come, we must tell Edith and Cosden,” Thatcher urged. “They are consumed with impatience to see you.”

“Let us wait until dinner,” Huntington suggested. “Billy must be considered, for the dear boy believes himself madly in love with Merry,—even as I did once with her mother.”

“Nonsense!” laughed Marian.

“It didn't seem like nonsense then, but I forgive you since you give me this sweet child, which I know you consider a greater gift than the one I would have asked.”

“I never heard of this,” Thatcher exclaimed.

“No man can marry a woman like Mrs. Thatcher without finding wrecks along the shore.”

“A very pretty remark from a son-in-law,” she retorted. “I shall hold you strictly to your loyalty!”

“Let me find Billy while you are dressing for dinner,” Huntington said. “I'll overtake you after breaking the news gently to him.”

“Don't be late,” Merry whispered to him in parting. “When I leave you I shall think it all a dream.”

“So it is, dear heart, but one which is sure to come true!”

Billy joined his uncle in his room, and the older man sat down beside him on the window-seat.

“Boy,” he said, “you and I have been great pals, and I want you to be the first to know of a wonderful thing which has happened to me.”

“You've beaten Mr. Cosden at golf,” Billy guessed.

“It is something which will hurt you for a minute but I want you to show how good a sport you are.”

“You're not going to make me live within my allowance?”

“Merry is going to marry me.”

“She isn't!” the boy cried, almost bursting into tears. “She isn't,—she's going to marry me!”

“Steady, Billy, steady! Remember what pals we are! You wouldn't want her to marry you if she loved some one else, would you?”

Billy quieted down, swallowing hard but saying nothing.

“Think how many years I have waited for this wonderful thing to happen. Think how many years you have ahead of you in which to have it happen. For it will happen to you, boy,—it must.”

“But you are a woman-hater.”

“No, boy,—a Merry lover! Won't you forget your infatuation and wish me joy?”

“I shall never marry,” Billy said disconsolately.

“That is what I said, twenty years ago!”

“You can't depend on girls, anyhow.”

“That is what I said, twenty years ago! Won't you wish me joy? It's the first time I've ever asked you to do anything for me.”

“It's asking a whole lot.”

“It is,—and the greater the gift if you give it to me.”

“So Merry is really going to marry you?”

Huntington nodded his head.

“Oh, well, I suppose I shall get over it.”

“Good for you, boy! And you wish me joy?”

“I can't; I'm a woman-hater now myself.”

“Wish me as much joy as possible under the circumstances.”

“I'll do that; but don't expect me to throw a fit in doing it.”

“All right,” Huntington patted him affectionately on the shoulder. “Now run and get ready for dinner, and don't forget that I'm keeping Merry in the family!”

“Oh! come. Don't rub it in!”

“I won't, but I'm so happy that I'm kiddish!”

“Many a married man seems contented when he's only resigned,” quoted Billy maliciously.

“Get out!” Huntington shouted, throwing a chair-pillow at the retreating figure.

It was at dinner that the party reassembled, this time in its full strength of numbers. The table was set in the Italian dining-porch, which occupied the east gable, and by reason of its uniqueness formed a charming background for the ceremony. Three of its sides were open, the over-story being supported on columns; the plaster wall was covered with masses of flowering and decorative plants, clinging to a lattice, and broken in the center by a niche enclosing an old marble fountain. Edith and Cosden greeted Huntington cordially when he came down, plying him with questions until he begged for mercy.

“You don't show any ill effects from acting as trained nurse,” Cosden remarked; “in fact I never saw you look so well. Glad you came in time for this farewell dinner; I'm back into the harness again to-morrow.”

“I wish you could stay longer, Mr. Cosden,” Marian urged.

“I'm ashamed of the length of time I have already imposed upon your hospitality,” Cosden replied; “but you must hold Edith responsible. It takes her an eternity to get a little word of three letters out of her mouth.”

“That isn't a commodity which requires advertising,” she remarked, tossing her head.

“I'll get you yet, you little devil!” whispered Cosden.

“This dinner is epoch-making,” Thatcher said seriously after they were seated, “and the epochs divide themselves into two parts. The first one I'm going to explain; then, as it is proper that my wife should have the last word, Marian will tell you the second. We have with us this evening—that's the way the toastmaster usually starts in, isn't it?—a man whom I have known for several years, whose integrity is unquestioned, but who has been considered by his business associates as one who exacted his last pound of flesh.”

Cosden looked quickly at Thatcher, and reddened at the pointed glance which Edith gave him.

“A few days ago,” Thatcher continued, “owing to extraordinary business conditions, that man found the one house which he would like best to control in a position where he could legitimately force it to accept his own terms. I know, because that house was mine.”

“Cut it out, Thatcher,” Cosden growled; “this isn't an experience meeting.”

Thatcher paid no attention to him. “At this crisis, I went down on my knees, and begged him a favor to accept a little trifle of four and a half millions profit in exchange for saving my house and reputation.”

“Harry!” Marian cried. “I've been blind to your troubles too!”

“This was his chance. He remarked coolly that he had been making plans to take advantage of his opportunity when it came, handed me drafts which enabled me to weather the storm, and refused to accept one penny of the blood-money which I was only too ready to give him. That is the way our friend Cosden collects his pound of flesh.”

“Connie did that?” Huntington demanded, gratified beyond measure but speaking lightly to cover Cosden's embarrassment. “Why, Connie,—I thought you were a business man!”

Edith made no comment but her gaze never left Cosden's face. His confusion was genuine, for to be made a hero in the midst of one's friends is more than any man can stand. Marian hastened to his rescue.

“I shall tell Mr. Cosden what I think of him when we are alone,” she said gratefully. “Now let us turn from the worship of Midas to that of a coy little divinity who may yet teach Edith to speak in words of one syllable. Harry says that I am to have the last word. It shall be brief: Mr. and Mrs. Henry Thatcher announce the engagement of their only daughter to—Mr. William Montgomery Huntington.”

The effect of this announcement was even more dramatic than the first.

“You sly old dog!” Cosden cried, reaching over and pummeling Huntington on the back.

“Great work!” was Philip's congratulation, but he subsided when he saw the expression on Billy's face.

It was epoch-making, as Thatcher had promised. The relief over the happy solution of the business crisis, and the surprise and joy of the announced engagement made the dinner pass from an episode into an event. Billy's lack of enthusiasm might be easily understood and as easily forgiven, but Edith's subdued attitude was less comprehensible. It was only as they left the table to go out upon the piazza that she broke her silence. She held back after Marian and Merry passed through the door and turned to Cosden.

“Did you really do that?” she demanded.

He nodded his head sheepishly. “You see, as Monty says, I'm no kind of business man after all.”

“I think you're the greatest business genius in the world!”

“You do!” he cried. “Then why don't you follow Merry's example?”

“I might,” she said smiling.

XXXIX

       * * * * *

Huntington dared not extend his visit beyond a few blissful days, but into these he crowded the full expression of his long-delayed romance. The wonder of it never left him, the joy of it filled him with quiet content.

The lovers watched Cosden's departure next morning, and by virtue of the priority of their engagement, considered themselves entitled to tease Edith who was not to leave until the following day.

“Well,” Huntington remarked, as they turned back into the hallway, “as Connie says, he usually gets what he goes after.”

“Don't you think he's earned me?” Edith retaliated.

“And you him,” Huntington retorted. “Everything is as it should be. You are just the girl for him, and he will make you a husband in a thousand. I need not tell you how cordially I have congratulated him.”

“I don't think our Society proved very effective,” she remarked dryly.

“On the contrary, it demonstrated its efficiency by the present most satisfactory exceptions.—But you are giving me a great many mysteries to explain to Merry!”

The evening before Huntington felt it necessary to return to his patient he touched upon a subject which had been avoided.

“Mamma,” he said to Mrs. Thatcher, “I think—”

“Don't you dare to call me that, Monty Huntington!” Marian exclaimed vehemently. “If I am to go through life with a son-in-law older than I am, at least I won't be called 'mamma'!”

“I'm trying to be respectful,” Huntington explained mischievously.

“Never you mind that,—call me 'Marian.' That at least will give me the benefit of the doubt.”

“I'm sorry to mark my entrance into the family by causing mortification,” Huntington continued in mock-seriousness. “It never occurred to me, if my prospective wife made no objections, that my age would be offensive to her parents. But the case isn't so serious as Ned Fordham's, is it?”

“He married Mrs. Eustis, didn't he?”

“Yes; and you remember that she has a married daughter and a small grandchild. Ned said the idea of a ready-made family was fine, but he thought it immoral for him to become a grandfather before he became a father.”

“Rather late for him to come to that conclusion, wasn't it?” Thatcher laughed.

“Yes; but he found two other men in the same predicament, so the three of them have formed a 'Society of Illegitimate Grandparents,' and now they're looking for more members.”

“Ned would joke at his own funeral!” chuckled Thatcher.

“It isn't your age I'm objecting to,” Marian explained; “it's my own. Merry's engagement makes me realize it.”

“She and I are going to make you forget that you have any age at all,” Huntington declared.—“But when you interrupted me I was going to speak of a really important matter.—We mustn't be unmindful of poor Hamlen.”

“No, indeed,” Marian replied seriously. “Happiness is selfish, isn't it, in making us temporarily forgetful? Poor Philip!”

“We are doing him no injustice,” he reassured her; “in fact I think the news I can take will please him. But I want you and Merry to go back to Boston with me.”

“Whatever you think is wise shall be done,” she acquiesced, “but wouldn't it be better for you to go ahead to prepare him for our coming?”

“That is by far the wiser plan,” Huntington assented promptly.

“Take me with you, Monty,” Merry whispered; “I wish we never need be separated again.”

“Stay here, sweetheart, and plan out with the dear mother how soon that day may be. I have been waiting too long already!”

       * * * * *

The nurse met Huntington as he entered the door, and replied to the question his face asked sooner than his lips.

“There is a remarkable improvement,” she announced cheerfully. “The doctor was here this morning, and left word for you that the progress is beyond his understanding.”

“Splendid!” he cried. “Where shall I find Hamlen?

“In the library, Mr. Huntington; it is all I can do to persuade him to go anywhere else.”

Huntington mounted the stairs two steps at time. “Hamlen!” he cried, “where are you?”

“Here!” a well-contained voice replied as he entered the room, “in your library, sitting in your favorite chair, eating your food, drinking your rum—in short, exercising every prerogative a man can assume who has unfettered himself from worldly responsibilities, and awaits the command of his master.”

“You certainly are better,” Huntington exclaimed, looking at him critically, astonished by the tone of his remark.

“Except for my weakness,” Hamlen answered, holding out his hand, “better than I've been in all my life.”

“You amaze me!” Huntington exclaimed. “I hoped for an improvement, but this return to more than your best self—”

“I've fought the fight, my friend, and this is the result.”

“It is a positive triumph!” Huntington drew a chair beside the patient, and regarded him with an expression of mystified gratification. “What in the world has happened?”

“You went away and gave me a chance to think,” Hamlen replied seriously. “Do you know, Huntington, I'm convinced that there ought to be a law condemning every human being to solitary confinement for a certain period each year, to make him think. Deprive him of his companions, his books, his writing materials—everything, and just force him to think. We take things so much for granted, we accept so many half-truths, we so easily lose our sense of proportion.”

“That is a capital idea, but you've done your share of it already.”

“My thoughts were misdirected. You not only gave me the opportunity but something basic on which to build. I wonder if you realize how pitilessly you laid me bare!”

“I had no intention, my dear fellow—”

“Oh, it was right; that was the very thing which saved me. I was sincere in feeling myself sunk in degradation, in wanting to end it all, and I hated you for standing in my way. But when you laid claim to my life, which I valued so slightly, I began to analyze it to discover why you cared to have it. You have done more for me, Huntington, than any human being ever did for a fellow-creature, and why you did it was past my comprehension.”

“We are bound by ties of a great brotherhood,” Huntington explained.

“No man I ever saw before has considered them so sacred. You are an idealist, Huntington. Your devotion to college and to college responsibilities amounts to a fetish. But I thank God for your idealism: it is not what college relations really are but what they ought to be!”

“I never will admit that, Hamlen.”

“Of course you won't; if you did you would lose your idealism. I saw all this, and it gave me my explanation: what you have done for me, Huntington, you would have done for any other college man under the same circumstances. It was not because of any claim the individual had upon you, but rather the acknowledgment of the greater appeal made by that brotherhood you venerate.”

“No, Hamlen; you must not depreciate the appeal which your own personality made from the first.”

“I don't depreciate it,—I'm proud of it; but to understand your idolatrous worship of the brotherhood makes it possible for me to accept the heavy obligations under which you place me. When you left me I felt that you must hate the sight of my haggard face, the sound of my complaining voice, the burden of silly weakness which I foisted upon your generous shoulders.”

“I understood what lay beneath.”

“You did, and to a wonderful extent; but it took me hours of bitter fighting to understand. Then the bigness of the great central thing at last came to me, and I recognized it. Sitting here in this chair I cried out in my excitement. The littleness of my own previous viewpoint overwhelmed me, and what had seemed tragedies assumed at last their smaller proportions. The greatness of your own ideals, the claim which the Alma Mater ought to have upon her sons, the right which the larger world outside has to demand big things of those to whom it gives advantages, made the petty failures of my life so insignificant that I was ashamed to have paraded them in public. I have been lying down on my weaknesses, Huntington, as no man ever has a right to do; but you have seen the last of that. I'll stand up now and take my medicine, I'll pay whatever penalty my latest indiscretion may demand, I'll practise some of that idealism which makes you what you are, and lay the ghost which for years has tortured me with pin-pricks.”

“You give me too much credit, Hamlen,” Huntington insisted firmly; “but since you find relief in what I've said or done I rejoice in your exaggeration.”

“You claimed my life, my friend,” Hamlen returned again to his earlier statement, “and it belongs to you. In all honor, I must make it reflect attributes which will give it value. With that accomplished, I stand ready to make delivery; but with it you must also accept its obligations. How will you have me pay them?”

“Your obligations are not so serious as you imagine,” Huntington replied with decision; “the only one as yet unpaid is to yourself. Had I not seen this surprising evidence of your latent strength I should not have believed you capable of meeting it; now I do.”

“But Marian—the insult my actions gave her—”

“Forgotten, and forgiven,—if forgiveness be required.”

“If I could see her once more, and she would listen to me—”

“She is coming here to see you as soon as I tell her you are strong enough.”

“Coming here?” he echoed; “I can't believe it! And the girl—can she ever understand?”

“On that point I can reassure you with even greater certainty, for I am to be the substitute bridegroom!”

Hamlen looked at him steadily to make sure he was in earnest.

“You are to marry Miss Thatcher?” he asked deliberately.

“The Gods have been good to me, Hamlen; they have given me the one gift I craved.”

“Then you have loved her all these weeks?”

“Since first I saw her.”

“My friend!” Hamlen raised himself unsteadily in his weakness, refusing assistance, until he stood upon his feet. Then supporting himself with one hand, he raised the other to his forehead in salute.

“You, sir, are a great man!” he said with dramatic fervor. “You not only possess ideals, but actually live up to them! A world that can produce one such as you is entitled to my respect, and is a place worth living in!”

“Cease!” Huntington cried, genuinely embarrassed by Hamlen's tribute. “Leave me out of this, for this is your day. To rise superior to the habit of twenty years, to let the world knock you down time after time, and finally come up smiling with an acknowledgment that it was your fault after all, to stand ready to pool issues with that world which you have always considered your enemy, is an exhibition of character which puts you so far beyond the rest of us that you couldn't see us if we saluted you.—I thought my happiest moment came when I discovered unexpectedly that Merry loved me; now you have taken me to heights beyond.

“I believe you,” Hamlen answered him, his voice weak from the strain of the interview, but his eyes bright with excitement and his face radiant,—“I believe every word you say. For one of your great brotherhood to find himself at last means more to you than any personal happiness,—such is the strength of the fetish! I wonder if the girl is big enough to share you with your other idol!”

“Have no fears,” Huntington laughed contentedly. “She will worship at the shrine with devotion equal to my own, and my fellow-worshipers shall bow the knee to her.”

The nurse gave Huntington a reproving glance when she came for her patient, but Hamlen would not permit even a suggestion that his friend had been unmindful of his weakness.

“It's all right,” he reassured her. “I know I'm excited, I know that I've pulled too hard on my strength, but something has come to me—inside here—which no doctor could ever give me. You'll see. Take me away now and I'll be as docile as a child.—But, Huntington, please telephone Marian that instead of coming to see me, I'd rather go to her. I would prefer to tell her what I have to say down there where the trees are cousins to my trees, and the language of the flowers can fill in the words when I find my own speech inadequate.—She'll understand.”

XL

       * * * * *

It was another fortnight before the fugitive was able to return to Sagamore Hall. Huntington telephoned, as he had promised, but he also found it necessary to run down there himself, to explain in detail the miracle which had happened. Mrs. Thatcher appreciated his thoughtfulness of her, Merry expressed her full approval, and incidentally he found the experience agreeable, so the necessity of his appearance in person was unanimously conceded. Still, the satisfaction of this visit was completely overshadowed by his feeling of triumph when Hamlen actually accompanied him.

The drone of the motor-car brought Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher and Merry to the door to greet them, for Marian wished their welcome to express to the fullest the fact that whatever had occurred was forgotten. Hamlen read it so, and it helped him.

“I have to move a bit slowly yet,” he explained as he rose cautiously in the tonneau. “Another month and I'll be as good as new.”

They assisted him up the steps and through the hallway to a great easy chair on the piazza beyond. Then, after a few moments of general conversation, they left him alone with Marian.

“Isn't it wonderful?” he exclaimed with frank delight. “I'm as pleased with myself as a kitten with two tails.”

“You well may be!” she laughed at his expression, which in its nature was eloquent of the changed mental attitude. “And our rejoicing is not far behind yours.”

“I know it; that is the most wonderful part of the whole thing. No matter how idiotic my actions, you and Huntington have stuck right by me, and have proved me wrong by the bigness of your hearts.”

“Forget the past,” Marian urged, “and start things from to-day.”

“No; I wouldn't want to do that, even if I could.”

He paused for a moment, and played with a tassel which fell across his lap from the cushion she had placed in the chair.

“Of course,” he said without looking up, “much of it will always seem like a delirious dream, but after all it is the past which has given me the present. And except for the past I should not have Huntington.”

There was a wealth of feeling in his words which showed Mrs. Thatcher how strong a hold his friend had gained upon him.

“Does he know how much he means to you, I wonder?”

Hamlen looked up quickly. “He hasn't the slightest conception,” he answered. “I have never seen a man so oblivious to the power he exercises over others, or to the results which he obtains. He really thinks I've come through this crisis because of some latent strength of character, when in reality it has been the reflection of his own. He would tell you that when I was dying of shame and mortification I took myself by the boot-straps and pulled myself out of the abyss, and he would never believe it was the result of the philosophy he demonstrated by every word and act. He positively made me ashamed to do anything but respond. And now that I am out, he has fired me with a desire to use the years which remain in doing something for some one else. Can you wonder that I love him?”

Marian's face reflected the pleasure his words gave her. “This is the real Philip Hamlen I have seen behind his mask,” she exclaimed; “this is the Philip I tried in my mistaken way to rescue from the chaos of confused ideals. I failed but Mr. Huntington succeeded; my gratitude to him passes all bounds.”

“You must take some of the credit whether you wish to or not,” Hamlen insisted. “When you invaded my Garden of Eden last winter and made those disturbing statements, you weakened the barrier of false beliefs with which I had surrounded myself. You could have restored the structure had I permitted it, but I wasn't ready for it then. You were entirely right when you said that I had forgotten the teachings of the masters I venerated, that I was blind to the difference between the means and the end. But, Marian—” for the first time his voice quavered—“that was before I had a friend! Think of living all those years without a friend! It was through your invasion that my horrible tranquillity was disturbed; it was through you that I met the one man in all the world who could take advantage of that condition to build a human structure upon such ruins.”

“Give me all the credit you can, Philip. I need it to help me to forget.”

“Tut! tut!” he chided her. “I may touch upon the past, but to you it is forbidden! Through you”—he went on—“I gained my friend, and, as if to demonstrate the philosophy he lives, in giving him to me you gained him too; for to your daughter is assured the most wonderful of companionships. Now, by the same token, in giving him to her, I shall expect the reward of being admitted to full friendship in this family whose members mean the world to me.”

“We already count you one of us, Philip, and we shall accept nothing less.”

“Then am I rich in friendship!” he exclaimed. “The law of compensation gives a greater joy of realization to one who has drifted than to him who has lived a normal existence: such a man is spared the depths, but he can never reach the heights.”

Two duster-clad, begoggled figures burst unceremoniously through the hallway onto the piazza where Marian and Hamlen had been scrupulously left alone by a comprehending family.

“Well, I'm glad to find some signs of life!” cried a familiar voice.

“Edith!” Marian exclaimed. “Where on earth did you come from? And Mr. Cosden!”

“Connie and I crept up on the house to surprise you,” she explained, as greetings were exchanged all around, “but we began to think the joke was on us and we'd struck the morgue by mistake. Where are the people anyhow? We can't stay but a minute.”

“Here we are!” Merry answered her, and as if by magic the entire family appeared from various directions.

“Where did you come from, where are you going, and why can't you stay but a minute?” Huntington demanded of Cosden as he grasped his hand.

Cosden grinned and looked at Edith.

“Oh, go ahead and tell them if you want to,” she remarked indifferently. “They're sure to find it out some time, and it might as well be now.”

“What in the world—” Mrs. Thatcher began.

“We're married!” Cosden announced, his face beaming with happiness and satisfaction.

“Yes,—that's right,” Edith corroborated, seeing doubt in the eager faces peering at them, speechless with surprise. “I told you that if once I gave Connie half a chance he'd have me packed up and shipped before I knew it, and that's just what has happened!”

“Don't apologize,” Marian laughed, kissing her. “I think you've done a very smart thing to elope like this.”

“Good heavens, Connie, I never thought of that! An elopement for me would just be the last thing in the world! How can you call it that when there is no one to elope from but Ricky!”

“Whatever you call it, I've got you!” Cosden declared, tapping his pocket. “The parson gave me a perfectly good bill of sale, and it will take some trying to break this contract. Now don't you try!”

Thatcher was the only one who rose fully to the occasion, and as a result of his presence of mind the butler appeared with a bottle of Pommery from which he filled the accompanying glasses. After Thatcher proposed the toast to the happy couple, Huntington again raised his glass to Cosden.

“Here's to Edith, God bless her!” he exclaimed.

Cosden understood, and the spirit of mischief seized him.

“How about that other toast we drank that night, Monty?”

Huntington put his arm around Merry's waist and drew her closer to him.

“It stands!” he replied with smiling defiance. “To Marian—little Marian—God bless her!”

“You rascal! You slipped it over on me!”

“Well, good-bye, people!” Edith interrupted.

“Stay for supper,” Mrs. Thatcher urged.

“No; here it is five o'clock and the wedding breakfast hasn't been served yet. We're off!”

“It is pitiful to see you kidnapped like this,” Marian teased her.

“Oh, well!” she looked slyly up into her husband's face. “Connie's not a bad sort as men go, and I'm game to take a chance.”

“Isn't she the best ever?” Cosden cried proudly. “I'm strong for the Benedicts and the Benedictines! Hurry up, Monty,—go and do likewise!”

They were off like a whirlwind, then all returned to Hamlen on the piazza. The two boys had stayed with him while the farewells were spoken at the door. Billy felt a bond of sympathy at last, for he too had suffered from the perfidy of woman! Philip was genuinely fond of Hamlen, and the older man clung to his friendship with even greater tenacity since this return to his normal condition.

“We are talking war,” Hamlen explained to Marian as they returned to him. “These boys are eager to see what is going on over there.”

“So we've heard,” she replied, smiling indulgently. “They have presented the case to us from as many angles as a certain manufacturer has varieties of pickles.”

“It would be a wonderful object lesson,” Hamlen said meditatively. “Even to read about it makes our own troubles insignificant; what an opportunity, if on the spot, to give out from one's own personality, and thus demonstrate the teachings of the humanists in practical fashion!”

The idea seemed to take possession of him, and his rigid figure and set features so clearly betrayed the workings of a strong emotion that no one interrupted him. At length he turned abruptly.

“Huntington!” he cried.

His friend stepped quickly to his side.

“I believe this war was started especially for me!” he declared.

“For you?” Huntington echoed, surprised.

“Why isn't this my opportunity? Here I am, longing for the chance to express myself in doing something for some one else. I haven't a tie in the world to keep me from going over there. I have money which couldn't be devoted to a better cause, and I speak the languages like a native.”

“By Jove!” Huntington replied; “you've solved the problem! Be the first to endow a college unit, Hamlen, and let it be for the glory of Harvard. You can equip the outfit, select your professional corps, and go over with it to superintend the business end. It's a capital notion!”

“I'll do it!” Hamlen said decisively. “With a definite purpose like this ahead of me, I'll shake this weakness in no time.—How about the boys? I'll need some chauffeurs.”

“Not Philip!” Mrs. Thatcher cried.

“Let me have him, Marian?” Hamlen begged. “The personal danger will be slight, and I don't need tell you that I'll watch over him as if he were my own son.”

She looked appealingly to her husband.

“I'd let him go,” Thatcher said. “There's no chance for him to get started in business for several months yet, and I'm grateful to Hamlen for offering him this opportunity under such wonderful conditions.”

Philip pleaded. “You won't hold out now, will you, Mother?”

“I can't,” she answered soberly. “With your father's approval, and with Mr. Hamlen's assurances, I should surely be opposing Nature, shouldn't I?”

Her question was put to Huntington, who understood it. He smiled approvingly.

“Good for you, little woman,” he whispered. “There are times when we must bow to something stronger than ourselves; this is one of them.”

“How about me?” Billy demanded.

“I think I may promise to secure consent,” Huntington assured him.

“Come on, Phil,” Billy seized his chum's arm. “Let's go out in the garage and practise on those cars.”

Marian disappeared within doors to quiet the apprehensions of her mother-heart; Thatcher drew a chair beside Hamlen's to discuss the war, which now assumed a personal interest; Huntington and Merry quietly slipped down the steps, and wandered through the formal garden to their favorite retreat.

“Why not watch the sunset from the water-garden?” Merry asked.

The sun set in proper and glorious fashion into the sea at the foot of the avenue of maple trees, but the successful completion of its task did not suggest to the lovers a return to the house. Still they sat on the curiously-cut stone seat, and told each other that story which is older than the stone, and which was first told long before Benten became the Goddess of Love. Twilight deepened into dusk, and stirred within Huntington's mind a quotation from a kindred soul who felt as he felt, but who couched his thought in more fitting words than he himself could choose:

“I wonder if you love to listen to the music of the night as I do, dear heart,—with its space, its mystery, its uplift of spirit? It is written in the key of the ideal and in the cadence of the divine.”

“Oh, Monty!” she murmured contentedly, “I do; for it is written in the key of happiness, and in the cadence of my beloved's voice!”

“You forgive me for being too old?”

“Not too old, my darling,—just born too soon!”

 
 
 

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