The Measure of Margaret Coppered by Kathleen Norris
Duncan Coppered felt that his father's second marriage was a great
mistake. He never said so; that would not have been Duncan's way. But
he had a little manner of discreetly compressing his lips, when, the
second Mrs. Coppered was mentioned, eying his irreproachable boots,
and raising his handsome brows, that was felt to be significant.
People who knew and admired Duncan—and to know him was to admire
him—realized that he would never give more definite indications of
filial disapproval than these. His exquisite sense of what was due his
father's wife from him would not permit it. But all the more did the
silent sympathy of his friends go out to him.
To Harriet Culver he said the one thing that these friends,
comparing notes, considered indicative of his real feeling. Harriet,
who met him on the Common one cold afternoon, reproached him, during
the course of a slow ride, for his non-appearance at various dinners
"Well, I've been rather bowled over, don't you know? I've been
getting my bearings," said Duncan, simply.
"Of course you have!" said Harriet, with an expectant thrill.
"I'd gotten to count on monopolizing the governor," pursued Duncan,
presently, with a rueful smile. "I shall feel no end in the way for a
while, I'm afraid, Of course, I didn't think Dad would always
keep"-his serious eyes met Harriet's—"always keep my mother's place
empty; but this came rather suddenly, just the same."
"Had your father written you?" said Harriet, confused between fear
of saying the wrong thing and dread of a long silence.
"Oh, yes!" Duncan attempted an indifferent tone. "He had written me
in August about meeting Miss Charteris and her little brother in
Rome, you know, and how much he liked her. Her brother was an
invalid, and died shortly after; and then Dad met her again in Paris,
quite alone, and they were married immediately."
He fell silent. Presently Harriet said daringly: "She's—clever;
she's gifted, isn't she?"
"I think you were very bold to say that, dear!" said Mrs. Van
Winkle, when Harriet repeated this conversation, some hours later, in
the family circle.
"Oh, Aunt Minnie, I had to—to see what he'd say."
"And what did he say?" asked Harriet's mother,
"He looked at me gravely, you know, until I was ashamed of myself,"
the girl confessed, "and then he said: 'Why, Hat, you must know that
Mrs. Coppered was a professional actress?'"
"And a very obscure little actress, at that," finished Mrs. Culver,
"Pacific Coast stock companies or something like that," said
Harriet. "Well, and then, after a minute, he said, so sadly, 'That's
what hurts, although I hate myself for letting it make a
"Duncan said that?" Mrs. Van Winkle was incredulous.
"Poor boy! With one aunt Mrs. Vincent-Hunter and the other an
English duchess! The Coppereds have always been among Boston's best
families. It's terrible," said Mrs. Culver.
"Well, I think it is," the girl agreed warmly. "Judge Clyde
Potter's grandson, and brought up with the very nicest people, and
sensitive as he is—I think it's just too bad it should be Duncan!"
"There's no doubt she was an actress, I suppose, Emily?"
"Well," said Harriet's mother, "it's not denied." She shrugged
"Shall you call, mother?"
"Oh, I shall have to once, I suppose. The Coppereds, you know.
Every one will call on her for Carey's sake," said Mrs. Culver,
Every one duly called on Mrs. Carey Coppered, when she returned to
Boston; and although she made her mourning an excuse for declining
all formal engagements, she sent out cards for an "at home" on a
Friday in January. She was a thin, graceful woman, with the blue-
black Irish eyes that are set in with a sooty finger, and an
unexpectedly rich, deep voice. Her quiet, almost diffident manner was
obviously accentuated just now by her recent sorrow; but this did not
conceal from her husband's friends the fact that the second Mrs.
Coppered was not of their world. Everything charming she might be, but
to the manner born she was not. They would not meet her on her own
ground, she could not meet them on theirs. In her own home she
listened like a puzzled, silenced child to the gay chatter that went
on about her.
Duncan stood with his father, at his stepmother's side, on her
afternoon at home, prompting her when names or faces confused her,
treating her with a little air of gracious intimacy eminently
becoming and charming under the circumstances. His tact stood between
her and more than one blunder, and it was to be noticed that she
relied upon him even more than upon his father. Carey Coppered,
indeed, hitherto staid and serious, was quite transformed by his joy
and pride in her, and would not have seen a thousand blunders on her
part. The consensus of opinion, among his friends, was that Carey was
"really a little absurd, don't you know?" and that Mrs. Carey was
"quite deliciously odd," and that Duncan was "too wonderful— poor,
Mrs. Coppered would have agreed that her stepson was wonderful, but
with quite a literal meaning. She found him a real cause for wonder-
-this poised, handsome, crippled boy of nineteen, with his tailor,
and his tutor, and his groom, and the heavy social responsibilities
that bored him so heartily. With the honesty of a naturally brilliant
mind cultivated by hard experience, and much solitary reading, she was
quite ready to admit that her marriage had placed her in a new and
confusing environment; she wanted only to adapt herself, to learn the
strange laws by which it was controlled. And she would naturally have
turned quite simply to Duncan for help.
But Duncan very gently, very coldly, repelled her. He was
representative of his generation. Things were not LEARNED by the best
people; they were instinctively KNOWN. The girls that Duncan knew—the
very children in their nurseries—never hesitated over the wording of
a note of thanks, never innocently omitted the tipping of a servant,
never asked their maid's advice as to suitable frocks and gloves for
certain occasions. All these things, and a thousand more, his
stepmother did, to his cold embarrassment and annoyance.
The result was unfortunate in two ways. Mrs. Coppered shrank under
the unexpressed disapproval into more than her native timidity,
rightly thinking his attitude represented that of all her new world;
and Carey, who worshipped his young wife, perceived at last that
Duncan was not championing his stepmother, and for the first time in
his life showed a genuine displeasure with his son.
This was exquisitely painful to Margaret Coppered. She knew what
father and son had been to each other before her coming; she knew,
far better than Carey, that the boy's adoration of his father was the
one vital passion of his life. Mrs. Ayers, the housekeeper, sometimes
made her heartsick with innocent revelations.
"From the day his mother died, Mrs. Coppered, my dear, when poor
little Master Duncan wasn't but three weeks old, I don't believe he
and his father were separated an hour when they could be together!
Mr. Coppered would take that little owl-faced baby downstairs with
him when he came in before dinner, and 'way into the night they'd be
in the library together, the baby laughing and crowing, or asleep on
a pillow on the sofa. Why, the boy wasn't four when he let the nurse
go, and carried the child off for a month's fishing in Canada! And
when we first knew that the hip was bad, Mr. Coppered gave up his
business and for five years in Europe he never let Master Duncan out
of his sight. The games and the books—I should say the child had a
million lead soldiers! The first thing in the morning it'd be, 'Is
Dad awake, Paul?' and he running into the room; and at noon, coming
back from his ride, 'Is Dad home?' Wonderful to him his father's
"That's why I'm afraid he'll never like me," Margaret was quite
simple enough to say wistfully, in response. "He never laughs out or
chatters, as Mr. Coppered says he used to do."
And after such a conversation she would be especially considerate
of Duncan—find some excuse for going upstairs when she heard the
click of his crutch in the hall, so that he might find his father
alone in the library, or excuse herself from a theatre trip so that
they might be together.
"Oh, I'm so glad the Poindexters want us!" she said one night, over
"Why?" said Carey, amused by her ardor. "We can't go."
"I know it. But they're such nice people, Carey. Duncan will be so
pleased to have them want me!"
Her husband laughed out suddenly, but a frown followed the laugh.
"You're very patient with the boy, Margaret. I—well, I've not been
very patient lately, I'm afraid. He manages to exasperate me so, with
these grandiose airs, that he doesn't seem the same boy at all!"
Mrs. Coppered came over to take the arm of his chair and put her
white fingers on the little furrow between his eyes.
"It breaks my heart when you hurt him, Carey! He broods over it so.
And, after all, he's only doing what they all—all the people he
knows would do!"
"I thought better things of him," said his father.
"If you go to Yucatan in February, Carey," Margaret said, "he and
I'll be here alone, and then we'll get on much smoother, you'll see."
"I don't know," he said. "I hate to go this year; I hate to leave
But he went, nevertheless, for the annual visit to his rubber
plantation; and Margaret and Duncan were left alone in the big house
for six weeks. Duncan took especial pains to be considerate of his
stepmother in his father's absence, and showed her that he felt her
comfort to be his first care. He came and went like a polite,
unresponsive shadow, spending silent evenings with her in the
library, or acting as an irreproachable and unapproachable escort
when escort was needed. Margaret, watching him, began to despair of
ever gaining his friendship.
Late one wintry afternoon the boy came in from a concert, and was
passing the open door of his step-mother's room when she called him.
He found her standing by one of the big windows, a very girlish
figure in her trim walking-suit and long furs. The face she turned to
him, under her wide hat, was rosy from contact with the nipping spring
"Duncan," she said, "I've had such a nice invitation from Mrs.
Duncan's face brightened.
"Mrs. Jim?" said he.
"No, indeed!" exulted Margaret, gayly. "Mrs. Clement."
"Oh, I say!" said Duncan, smiling too. For if young Mrs. Jim
Gregory's friendship was good, old Mrs. Clement's was much better.
For the first time, he sat down informally in Margaret's room and
laid aside his crutch.
"She's going to take General and Mrs. Wetherbee up to Snowhill for
three or four days," pursued Margaret, "and the Jim Gregorys and Mr.
Fred Gregory and me. Won't your father be pleased? Now, Duncan, what
clothes do I need?"
"Oh, the best you've got," said Duncan, instantly interested; and,
until it was time to dress for dinner, the two were deep in absorbed
Duncan was whistling as he went upstairs to dress, and his
stepmother was apparently in high spirits. But twenty minutes later,
when he found her in the library, there was a complete change. Her
eyes were worried, her whole manner distressed, and her voice sharp.
She looked up from a telegram as he came in.
"I've just had a wire from an old friend in New York," said she,
"and I want you to telephone the answer for me, will you, Duncan?
I've not a moment to spare. I shall have to leave for New York at the
earliest possible minute. After you've telephoned the wire, will you
find out about the trains from South Station? And get my ticket and
reservation, will you? Or send Paul for them—whatever's quickest."
Duncan hardly recognized her. Her hesitation was gone, her
diffidence gone. She did not even look at him as she spoke; his scowl
passed entirely unnoticed. He stood coldly disapproving.
"I don't really see how you can go," he began. "Mrs. Gregory—"
"Yes, I know!" she agreed hastily. "I telephoned. She hadn't come
in yet, so I had to make it a message—simply that Mrs. Coppered
couldn't manage it tomorrow. She'll be very angry, of course. Duncan,
would it save any time to have Paul take this right to the telegraph
"Surely," Duncan interrupted in turn, "you're not going to rush
"Oh, surely—surely—surely—I am!" she answered, fretted by his
tone. "Don't tease me, dear boy! I've quite enough to worry over! I-
-I"—she pushed her hair childishly off her face—"I wish devoutly
that your father was here. He always knows in a second what's to be
done! But—but fly with this telegram, won't you?" she broke off
Duncan went. The performance of his errand was not reassuring. The
telegram was directed to Philip Penrose, at the Colonial Theatre, and
Will be with you this evening. Depend on me. Heartsick at news.
When he went upstairs again, he rapped at his stepmother's door.
Hatted, and with a fur coat over her arm, she opened it.
"Are you taking Fanny?" said Duncan, icily. Fanny, the maid,
middle- aged, loyal, could be trusted with the honor of the Coppereds.
"Heavens, no!" said Mrs. Coppered, vigorously.
"Then I hope you will not object to my escort," said the boy,
If he meant it for reproach, it missed its mark. Mrs. Coppered's
surprised look became doubtful, finally changed to relief.
"Why, that's very sweet of you, Duncan," she said graciously,
"especially as I can't tell you what I'm going for, my dear, for it
may not occur. But I think, of all people in the world, you're the
one to go with me!"
Duncan eyed her severely.
"At the same time," he said, "I can't for one moment pretend—"
"Exactly; so that it's all the nicer of you to volunteer to come
along!" she said briskly. "You'll have to hurry, Duncan. And ask Paul
to come up for my trunk, will you? We leave the house in half an
Mrs. Coppered advised her stepson to supply himself with magazines
on the train.
"For I shall have to read," she said, "and perhaps you won't be
able to sleep."
And read she did, with hardly a look or a word for him. She turned
and re-turned the pages of a little paper-covered book, moving her
lips and knitting her brows over it as she read.
Duncan, miserably apprehensive that they would meet some
acquaintance and have to give an explanation of their mad journey,
satisfied himself that there was no such immediate danger, and,
assuming a forbidding expression, sat erect in his seat. But he
finally fell into an uneasy sleep, not rousing himself until the
train drew into the Forty-second Street station late in the evening.
His stepmother had made a rough pillow of his overcoat and put it
between his shoulder and the window-frame; but he did not comment
upon it as he slipped it on and followed her through the roaring,
chilly station to a taxicab.
"The Colonial Theatre, as fast as you can!" said she, as they
jumped in. She was obviously nervous, biting her lips and humming
under her breath as she watched the brilliantly lighted streets they
threaded so slowly. Almost before it stopped she was out of the cab,
at the entrance of a Broadway theatre. Duncan, alert and suspicious,
read the name "Colonial" in flaming letters, and learned from a larger
sign that Miss Eleanor Forsythe and an all-star cast were appearing
therein in a revival of Reade's "Masks and Faces."
In the foyer Mrs. Coppered asked authoritatively for the manager.
It was after ten o'clock, the curtain had risen on the last act, and a
general opinion prevailed that Mr. Wyatt had gone home. But Mrs.
Coppered's distinguished air, her magnificent furs, her beauty, all
had their effect, and presently Duncan followed her into the hot,
untidy little office where the manager was to be found.
He was a pleasant, weary-looking man, who wheeled about from his
desk as they came in, and signed the page to place chairs.
"Mr. Wyatt," said Mrs. Coppered, with her pleasantest smile, "can
you give us five minutes?"
"I can give you as many as you like, madam," said the manager,
patiently, but with a most unpromising air.
"Only five!" she reassured him, as they sat down. Then, with an
absolutely businesslike air, she continued: "Mr. Wyatt, you have Mr.
and Mrs. Penrose in your company, I think, both very old friends of
mine. She's playing Mabel Vane,—Mary Archer is the name she uses,—
and he's Triplet. Isn't that so?"
The manager nodded, eying her curiously.
"Mr. Wyatt, you've heard of their trouble, of course? The accident
this morning to their little boy?"
"Ah, yes—yes," said Wyatt. "Of course. Hurt by a fall, poor little
fellow. Very serious. Yes, poor things! Did you want to see—"
"You know that one of your big surgeons here—I've forgotten the
name!—is to operate on little Phil tomorrow?" asked Mrs. Coppered.
"So Penrose said," assented the manager, slowly, watching her as if
a little surprised at her insistence.
"Mr. Wyatt." said Mrs. Coppered,—and Duncan noticed that she had
turned a little pale,—"Mrs. Penrose wired me news of all this only a
few hours ago. She is half frantic at the idea that she must go on
tomorrow afternoon and evening; yet the understudy is ill, and she
felt it was too short notice to ask you to make a change now. But it
occurred to me to come to see you about it. I want to ask you a
favor. I want you to let me play Mrs. Penrose's part tomorrow
afternoon and tomorrow night. I've played Mabel Vane a hundred times;
it's a part I know very well," she went on quickly. "I—I am not in
the least afraid that I can't take it. And then she can be with the
little boy through the operation and afterward—he's only five, you
know, at the unreasonable age when all children want their mothers!
Can't that be arranged, Mr. Wyatt?"
Duncan, holding a horrified breath, fixed his eyes, as he did, on
the manager's face. He was relieved at the inflexible smile he saw
"My dear lady," said Wyatt, kindly, "that is—absolutely—OUT of
the question! Anything in reason I will be delighted to do for Penrose
and Miss Archer—but you must surely realize that I can't do that!"
"But wait!" said Mrs. Coppered, eagerly, not at all discouraged.
"Don't say no yet! I AM an actress, Mr. Wyatt, or was one. I know the
part thoroughly. And the circumstances—the circumstances are unusual,
While she was speaking the manager was steadily shaking his head.
"I have no doubt you could play the part," said he, "but I can't
upset my whole company by substituting now. Tomorrow is going to be a
big night. The house is completely sold out to the Masons—their
convention week, you know. As it happens, there couldn't be a more
inconvenient time. No, I can't consider it!"
Mrs. Coppered smiled at him. She had a very winning smile.
"It would mean a rehearsal; I suppose THAT would be inconvenient,
to begin with," she said.
"Exactly," said Wyatt. "Friday night. I can't ask my people to
"But suppose you put it to them and they were all willing?" pursued
"My dear lady, I tell you it's absolutely—" He made a goaded
gesture. Then, making fierce little dashes and dots on his blotter
with his pencil, and eying each one ferociously as he made it, he
added irritably, but in a quieter tone: "You're an actress, eh?
Where'd you get your experience?"
"With various stock companies on the Pacific Coast," she answered
readily. "My name was Margaret Charteris. I don't suppose you ever
"As it happens, I HAVE," he returned, surprised into interest. "You
knew Joe Pitcher, of course. He spoke of you. I remember the name
"Professor Pitcher!" she exclaimed radiantly. "Of course I knew
him- -dear old man! Where is he—still there?"
"Still there," he assented absently. "You married, I think?"
"I am Mrs. Coppered now—Mrs. Carey Coppered," she said. The man
gave her a suddenly awakened glance.
"Surely," he said thoughtfully. They looked steadily at each other,
and Duncan saw the color come into Margaret's face. There was a
Then the manager flung down his pencil, wheeled about in his chair,
and rubbed his hands briskly together.
"Well!" he said. "And you think you can take Miss Archer's place,
"If you will let me."
"Why," he said,—and Duncan would not have believed that the
somewhat heavy face could wear a look so pleasant,—"you are doing so
much, Mrs. Coppered, in stepping into the gap this way, that I'll do
my share if I can! Perhaps I can't arrange it, but we can try. I'll
call a rehearsal and speak to Miss Forsythe to-night. If you know the
part, it's just possible that by going over it now we can get out of a
rehearsal tomorrow. She wants to be with the little boy, eh?" he added
musingly. "Yes, I suppose it might make a big difference, his not
being terrified by strangers." And then, turning toward Margaret, he
said warmly and a little awkwardly: "This is a remarkably kind thing
for you to do, Mrs. Coppered."
"Oh, I would do more than that for Mary Penrose," said she, with a
little difficulty. "She knows it. She wired me as a mad last hope
today, and we came as fast as we could, Mr. Coppered and I." And she
introduced Duncan very simply: "My stepson, Mr. Wyatt."
Duncan, fuming, could be silent no longer.
"I hope my—Mrs. Coppered is not serious in offering to do this,"
said he, very white, and in a slightly shaking voice. "I assure you
that my father—that every one!—would think it a most extraordinary
thing to do!"
Mrs. Coppered laid her hand lightly on his arm.
"Yes, I know, Duncan!" said she, quickly, soothingly. "I know how
you feel! But—"
Duncan slightly repudiated the touch.
"I can't think how you can consider it!" he said passionately, but
in a low voice. "A thing like this always gets out! You know—you
know how your having been on the stage is regarded by our friends! It
is simply insane—"
He had said a little more than he meant, in his high feeling, and
Margaret's face had grown white.
"I asked you only for your escort, Duncan," she said gently, but
with blazing eyes. There was open hostility in the look they
"I can't see what good my escort does," said the boy, childishly,
"when you won't listen to what you know is true!"
"Nevertheless, I still want it," she answered evenly. And after a
moment Duncan, true to his training, and already a little ashamed of
his ineffectual outburst,—for to waste a display of emotion was, in
his code, a lamentable breach of etiquette,—shrugged his shoulders.
"Still want to stay with it?" said Mr. Wyatt, giving her a shrewd,
"Certainly," she said promptly; but she was breathing fast.
"Then we might go and talk things over," he said; and a moment
later they were crossing the theatre to the stage door. The final
curtain had fallen only a moment before, but the lights were up, the
orchestra halfway through a swift waltz, and the audience, buttoning
coats and struggling with gloves, was pouring up the aisles. Duncan,
through all his anger and apprehension, felt a little thrill of
superiority over these departing playgoers as he and his stepmother
were admitted behind the scenes. He was young, and the imagined
romance of green-rooms and footlights appealed to him.
The company, suddenly summoned, appeared in various stages of
street and stage attire. Peg, a handsome young woman with brilliant
color and golden hair, still wore her brocaded gown and patches, and
wore, in addition, a slightly affronted look at this unprecedented
proceeding. The other members of the cast, yawning, slightly curious,
were grouped about in the great draughty space between the wings that
it cost Duncan some little effort to realize was the stage.
From this group, as Margaret followed the stage manager into the
circle of light, a little woman suddenly detached herself, and,
running across the stage and breaking into sobs as she ran, she was
in Margaret's arms in a second.
"Oh, Meg, Meg, Meg!" she cried, laughing and crying at the same
time. "I knew you'd come! I knew you'd manage it somehow! I've been
praying so—I've been watching the clock! Oh, Meg," she went on
pitifully, fumbling blindly for a handkerchief, "he's been suffering
so, and I had to leave him! They thought he was asleep, but when I
tried to loosen his little hand he woke up!"
"Mary—Mary!" said Mrs. Coppered, soothingly, patting the bowed
shoulder. No one else moved; a breathless attention held the group.
"Of course I came," she went on, with a little triumphant laugh, "and
I think everything's ALL right!"
"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Penrose, with a convulsive effort at self-
control. She caught Margaret's soft big muff, and drew it across her
eyes. "I'm ru-ru-ruining your fur, Margaret!" she said, laughing
through tears, "but—but seeing you this way, and realizing that I
could go—go—go to him now—"
"Mary, you must NOT cry this way," said Mrs. Coppered, seriously.
"You don't want little Phil to see you with red eyes, do you? Mr.
Wyatt and I have been talking it over," she went on, "but it remains
to be seen, dear, if all the members of the company are willing to go
to the trouble." Her apologetic look went around the listening circle.
"It inconveniences every one, you know, and it would mean a rehearsal
tonight—this minute, in fact, when every one's tired and cold." Her
voice was soothing, very low. But the gentle tones carried their
message to every one there. The mortal cleverness of such an appeal
struck Duncan sharply, as an onlooker.
The warm-hearted star, Eleanor Forsythe, whose photographs Duncan
had seen hundreds of times, was the first to respond with a half-
indignant protest that SHE wasn't too tired and cold to do that much
for the dear kiddy, and other volunteers rapidly followed suit. Ten
minutes later the still tearful little mother was actually in a cab
whirling through the dark streets toward the hospital where the child
lay, and a rehearsal was in full swing upon the stage of the Colonial.
Only the few actors actually necessary to the scenes in which Mabel
figures need have remained; but a general spirit of sympathetic
generosity kept almost the entire cast. Mr. Penrose, as Triplet, had
the brunt of the dialogue to carry; and he and Margaret, who had quite
unaffectedly laid aside her furs and entered seriously into the work
of the evening, remained after all the others had lingered away, one
Duncan watched from one of the stage boxes, his vague, romantic
ideas of life behind the footlights rather dashed before the three
hours of hard work were over. This was not very thrilling; this had
no especial romantic charm. The draughts, the dust, the wide, icy
space of the stage, the droning voices, the crisp interruptions, the
stupid "business," endlessly repeated, all seemed equally
disenchanting. The stagehands had set the stage for the next day's
opening curtain, and had long ago departed. Duncan was cold, tired,
headachy. He began to realize the edge of a sharp appetite, too; he
and Margaret had barely touched their dinner, back at home those ages
He could have forgiven her, he told himself, bitterly, if this
plunge into her old life had had some little glory in it. If, for
instance, Mrs. Gregory had asked her to play Lady Macbeth or Lady
Teazle in amateur theatricals at home, why one could excuse her for
yielding to the old lure. But this, this secondary part, these
commonplace, friendly actors, this tiring night experience, this
eager deference on her part to every one, this pitiful anxiety to
please, where she should, as Mrs. Carey Coppered, have been proudly
commanding and dictatorial—it was all exasperating and disappointing
to the last degree; it was, he told himself, savagely, only what one
might have expected!
Presently, when Duncan was numb in every limb, Margaret began to
button herself into her outer wraps, and, escorted by Penrose, they
went to supper. Duncan hesitated at the door of the cafe.
"This is an awful place, isn't it?" he objected. "You can't be
going in here!"
"One must eat, Duncan!" Mrs. Coppered said blithely, leading the
way. "And all the nice places are closed at this hour!" Duncan
sullenly followed; but, in the flood of reminiscences upon which she
and Penrose instantly embarked, his voice was not missed. Mollified
in spite of himself by delicious food and strong coffee, he watched
them, the man's face bright through its fatigue, his stepmother
glowing and brilliant.
"I'll see this through for Dad's sake," said Duncan, grimly, to
himself; "but, when he finds out about it, she'll have to admit I
kicked the whole time!"
At four o'clock they reached the Penroses' hotel, where rooms were
secured for Duncan and Margaret. The boy, dropping with sleep, heard
her cheerfully ask at the desk to be called at seven o'clock.
"I've a cloak to buy," she explained, in answer to his glance of
protest, "and a hairdresser to see, and a hat to find—they may be
difficult to get, too! And I must run out and have just a glimpse of
little Phil, and get to the theatre by noon; there's just a little
more going over that second act to do! But don't you get up."
"I would prefer to," said Duncan, with dignity, taking his key.
But he did not wake until afternoon, when the thin winter sunlight
was falling in a dazzling oblong on the floor of his room; and even
then he felt a little tired and stiff. He reached for his watch—
almost one o'clock! Duncan's heart stood still. Had SHE overslept?
He sat up a little dazed, and, doing so, saw a note on the little
table by his bed. It was from Margaret, and ran:
If you don't wake by one they're to call you, for I want you to see
Mabel's entrance. I've managed my hat and cloak, and seen the child-
-he's quiet and not in pain, thank God. Have your breakfast, and then
come to the box-office; I'll leave a seat for you there. Or come
behind and see me, if you will, for I am terribly nervous and would
like it. So glad you're getting your sleep. MARGAEET.
P.S. Don't worry about the nerves; I ALWAYS am nervous.
Duncan looked at the note for three silent minutes, sitting on the
edge of his bed.
"I'm sorry. She—she wanted me. I wish I'd waked!" he said slowly,
And ten minutes later, during a hurried dressing, he read the note
again, and said, aloud again:
"'Have breakfast'! I wonder if she had HERS?"
He entered the theatre so late, for all his hurry, that the first
act was over and the second well begun, and was barely in his seat
before the now familiar opening words of Mabel Vane's part fell
clearly on the silence of the darkened house.
For a moment Duncan thought, with a great pang of relief, that some
one else was filling his stepmother's place; but he recognized her in
another minute, in spite of rouge and powder and the piquant dress she
wore. His heart stirred with something like pride. She was beautiful
in her flowered hat and the caped coat that showed a foam of lacy
frills at the throat; and she was sure of herself, he realized in a
moment, and of her audience. She made a fresh and appealing figure of
the plucky little country bride, and the old lines fell with delicious
naturalness from her lips.
Duncan's heart hardly beat until the fall of the curtain; tears
came to his eyes; and when Margaret shared the applause of the house
with the gracious Peg, he found himself shaking with a violent nervous
He was still deeply stirred when he went behind the scenes after
the play. His stepmother presently came up from her dressing-room,
dressed in street clothes and anxious to hurry to the hospital and
have news of the little boy.
Duncan called a taxicab, for which she thanked him absently and
with worried eyes; and presently, with her and with the child's
father, he found himself speeding toward the hospital. It was a silent
trip. Margaret kept her ungloved fingers upon Penrose's hand, and said
only a cheerful word of encouragement now and then.
Duncan waited in the cab, when they went into the big building. She
was gone almost half an hour. Darkness came, and a sharp rain began
He was half drowsy when she suddenly ran down the long steps and
jumped in beside him. Her face was radiant, in spite of the signs of
tears about her eyes.
"He took the ether like a little soldier!" she said, as the motor-
car slowly wheeled up the wet street. "Mary held his hand all the
while. Everything went splendidly, and he came out of it at about
four. Mary sang him off to sleep, sitting beside him, and she's still
there—he hasn't stirred! Dr. Thorpe is more than well satisfied; he
said the little fellow had nerves of iron! And the other doctor isn't
even going to come in again! And Thorpe says it is LARGELY because he
could have his mother!"
But the exhilaration did not last. Presently she leaned her head
back against the seat, and Duncan saw how marked was the pallor of
her face, now that the rouge was gone. There was fatigue in the droop
of her mouth, and in the deep lines etched under her eyes.
"It's after six, Duncan," she said, without opening her eyes, "so I
can't sleep, as I hoped! We'll have to dine, and then go straight to
"You're tired," said the boy, abruptly. She opened her eyes at the
tone, and forced a smile.
"No—or, yes, I am, a little. My head's been aching. I wish
to-night was over." Suddenly she sighed. "It's been a strain, hasn't
it?" she said. "I knew it would be, but I didn't realize how hard! I
just wanted to do something for them, you know, and this was all I
could think of. And I've been wishing your father had been here; I
don't know what he will say. I don't stop to think—when it's the
people I love—" she said artlessly. "I dread—" she began again, but
left the sentence unfinished, after all, and looked out of the window.
"I suspect you're tired, too!" she went on brightly, after a moment.
"I shan't forget what a comfort it's been to have you with me through
this queer experience, Duncan. I know what it has cost you, my dear."
"Comfort!" echoed Duncan. He tried to laugh, but the laugh broke
itself off gruffly. He found himself catching her hand, putting his
free arm boyishly about her shoulders. "I'm not fit to speak to you,
Margaret!" he said huskily. "You're—you're the best woman I ever
knew! I want you to know I'm sorry—sorry for it all—everything! And
as for Dad, why, he'll think what I think—that you're the only person
in the world who'd do all this for another woman's kid!"
Mrs. Coppered had tried to laugh, too, as she faced him. But the
tears came too quickly. She put her wet face against his rough
overcoat and for a moment gave herself up to the luxury of tears.
"Carey," said his wife, on a certain brilliant Sunday morning a
month later, when he had been at home nearly a month. She put her
head in at the library door. "Carey, will you do me a favor?"
He looked up to smile at her, in her gray gown and flowered hat,
and she came in to take the seat opposite him at the broad table.
"I will. Where are you going?"
"Duncan and I are going to church, and you're to meet us at the
Gregorys' for lunch," she reminded him.
"Yes'm. And what do you two kids want? What's the favor?"
"Oh!" She became serious. "You remember what I told you of our New
York trip a month ago, Carey? The Penroses, you know?"
"Well, Carey, I've discovered that it has been worrying Duncan ever
since you got home, because he thinks I'm keeping it from you."
"Thinks you haven't told me, eh?"
"Yes. Don't laugh that way, Carey! Yes. And he asked me in the
sweetest little way, a day or two ago, if I wouldn't tell you all
"What did you do—box his young ears?"
"No." Margaret's eyes laughed, but she shook her head reprovingly.
"I thought it was so DEAR of him to feel that way, yet never give you
even a hint, that I—"
"Well?" smiled her husband, as she paused.
"Well," hesitated Mrs. Coppered. And then in a little burst she
added: "I said, 'Duncan, if you ask me to I WILL tell him!'"
"And what do you think you gain by THAT, Sapphira?" said Carey,
"Why, don't you see? Don't you see it means EVERYTHING to him to
have stood by me in this, and now to clear it all up between us!
Don't you see that it makes him one of us, in a way? He's done his
adored father a real service—"
"And his adored mother, too?"
His tone brought the happy tears to her eyes.
"And the favor?" he said presently.
"Oh! Well, you see, I'm supposed to be 'fessing up the whole
horrible business, Carey, and in a day or two I want you to thank
him, just in some general way,—you'll know how!—for looking out for
me so well while you were away. Will you?"
"I will," he promised slowly.
"He's coming downstairs—so good-by!" said she. She came around the
table to kiss him, and, suddenly smitten with a sense of youth and
well-being and the glory of the spring morning, she added a little
"I wonder what I've done to be so happy, Carey—I wonder what I've
ever done to be so loved?"
"I wonder!" said Carey, smiling.