THE trustees of Dulwich College, who had taken supper at Professor Thorpe’s, were strolling slowly across the grass toward the library, where they had appointed an evening meeting. Professor Thorpe was hurrying away in the opposite direction, shaking himself into his flapping black silk gown as he went; and, standing in the doorway of her house, Mrs. Thorpe was watching first one and then the other, a flame of fatigue and anxiety burning in her cheeks and shining in her eyes.
A heavy tread sounded on the stairs, and Judge Slocum, one of the members of the board of trustees who was stopping with the Thorpes, brushed by her. He was half way down the steps of the porch before he became conscious that he was leaving his hostess a little discourteously. “I don’t see why you Profs need grumble so about the smallness of your salaries, when they’ll allow you to afford a supper like that,” he said, looking back at her over his shoulder. “Even in my own house I’ve seldom sat down to a better meal; only Mrs. Slocum never forgets to put the toothpicks on the table; I had to go all the way up to my bedroom for this one.”
“I am glad yon found it there,” said Mrs. Thorpe politely.
The judge looked at her keenly; he had known Mrs. Thorpe a long time, and, as he often said, he never felt sure she “didn’t mean something.”
“My wife’s about the best housekeeper in this State,” he announced boastfully, his voice somewhat impeded by the toothpick; “but I’m thankful to say she don’t believe in frills. It’s this putting on style that is the ruin of Dulwich! You make plain boys afraid to call at your houses; and I tell you what, ma’am, without the support of the plain people of the surrounding community this college is going to the dogs!” He swung off down the path, in haste to overtake his fellow trustees, who had disappeared into the library.
“How glad you must be to see the last of them!” called a high and rather sweet voice, coming from a young woman who was crossing the lawn between Mrs. Thorpe’s house and the next.
“Good evening, Mrs. Tracey,” said Mrs. Thorpe formally.
Mrs. Tracey came up the steps of the porch, her head turning inquisitively from side to side and her large hazel eyes darting hither and yon with curiosity. “How many of them were here?” she asked. “Did they all come?—what a bore you must find it, entertaining all those old fogies! I suppose Judge Mellish is not staying with you as usual?”
“No, we have Judge Slocum and Mr. Carter this year,” said Mrs. Thorpe. “Who is staying with you, Mrs. Tracey?”
“None of the trustees,” said Mrs. Tracey guardedly. “They wanted me to take Judge Mellish, but I am like you; I really can’t stand that old man.”
“Judge Mellish was a dear friend of my father’s,” said Mrs. Thorpe coldly. “I have always had the greatest respect and affection—”
The other interrupted, laughing loudly: “Yes, you have had; we all know what that means!—but where is poor Lucy? I thought you told me that yesterday she was able to be downstairs.”
“Poor Lucy is here!” A tall, slender girl came toward a window that opened upon the porch, and, as she stepped under the sash to come out, the girdle of her white silk gown swept downward to the boards.
“Oh, be careful!” cried Mrs. Tracey. “You’ll soil it! What wonderful things you do wear—lately!” She bent forward and took a fold of the dress in her fingers. “This might do for a bride—or else an actress. It would look lovely in ‘Camille’—you know the scene—after her lover has deserted her and she’s going into a decline.”
The girl smiled. “It is one of my wedding things,” she said. There was a faint malice in the glance that accompanied her words; but the color mounted high into Mrs. Thorpe’s thin cheeks, who began talking rapidly, of anything and everything that might keep the ball rolling, and prevent Mrs. Tracey’s again addressing her daughter.
“It’s lucky Judge Slocum can’t hear you!” Mrs. Tracey cried, when, in her desperation, Mrs. Thorpe had related the story of the toothpick. “It would be dreadful if, after being President pro tem. for a year and a half, somebody else should be appointed in the professor’s place.”
“Mr. Thorpe does not consider it his place.”
“Oh, come now, the professor has taken very kindly to authority, and you enjoy being Mrs. President as well as anybody; everyone has noticed that!”
“My husband is a student,” said Mrs. Thorpe, with dignity. “Executive work has never been congenial to him. We both of us much prefer a quieter life.”
Before Mrs. Thorpe had quite finished her sentence Mrs. Tracey yawned and rose to her feet. “Oh, we’ve heard you say that a great many times!” she cried, with a peal of laughter which she seemed to think condoned her impertinence. “But wait until after Commencement—we shall be interested to see what you will have to say then. Good-by, Lucy; do make some effort to appear a little less out of spirits, and come over to the dance at the Hall tomorrow. I’ll see that you have all the partners you want. The boys will do anything for me. Good-by, Mrs. Thorpe; I shall not soon forget your amusing account of your supper this evening.”
“Have I said anything imprudent?” asked Mrs. Thorpe anxiously, when. Mrs. Tracey had disappeared into her own house.
“Whether you have or not makes no difference; she will say it for you.”
There was an interval of silence.
“Why did you tell her that this was one of your wedding things?” Mrs. Thorpe asked at last “It only gave her another opening to say something that would give you pain. She seems to take delight in it!”
The girl clasped her hands behind her head. “She doesn’t want to hurt me,” she said indifferently. “She only wants to find out why George and I were not married on the fifteenth of this month; it makes her quite furious not to succeed.”
“I do wish you would let me announce that you broke off the engagement.”
“But I didn’t.”
“You wrote to George Mellish, telling him that he was free—”
“That he was free if he wished it,” interrupted Lucy; “but if I had not thought that George would laugh at it, I never would have dreamed of writing that letter. I did it to convince you that you were mistaken; and because after you and the judge quarrelled, you were always trying to persuade me—”
‘‘You can hardly say that the judge and I quarrelled,” Mrs. Thorpe broke in hastily. “We merely agreed that you and George were not suited to each other. And certainly, when George let so long a time go by without writing to you, you owed it to yourself to break the engagement.”
“Why go over it?”
“Because I wish people to know where the fault lies.”
“Very well,” said Lucy quietly; “you may tell them that it lies somewhere between you and Judge Mellish.”
“But it does not! If I had let you alone, you would have gone on until your very wedding day, and George Mellish would never have appeared!”
“It must be a comfort to you to feel so sure of it, mama,” said Lucy wearily; “ but now that it is all satisfactorily settled, why discuss it?—Shall you mind if they don’t appoint papa?”
“They must!” cried Mrs. Thorpe, her thoughts quickly returning to her own troubles. “They can’t help it! He has carried on his teaching and done all the work of the president beside, for the last eighteen months. Double work, double worry, double expense; for we have entertained constantly, and they haven’t even offered to increase the miserable pittance upon which we have half starved for the last thirty years!”
“Dearest! Starved? We have always had enough.”
“There is a worse starvation than of the body! When have you had enough joy, or your father enough time, or I enough rest? We have starved for amusements—”
“Nonsense!” said Lucy laughing. “We have always amused ourselves; uncommonly well, too!”
But the flood-gates, once opened, could not be closed against the overwhelming tide of Mrs. Thorpe’s bitterness. “When have we traveled? What pictures have we-seen? What music have we heard? You have been to but two plays in your life, and you never before had a whole new outfit at one time—dress, hat, shoes, gloves—”
“But I have them now!”
“You wouldn’t, if you hadn’t spent the tiny legacy your aunt left you, on wedding clothes—wedding clothes that you must wear, and be commented upon because we are too poor to buy others!”
“Would you demy me every consolation under the circumstances?”
“You know you hate to wear them.”
“On the contrary, I am delighted!” She smoothed out the silk of her gown as she spoke, and held up the lace of her sleeve admiringly between herself and the sky.
“Your Aunt Lucilla locked all hers away in her trunks and never opened them again to the day of her death, when George Mellish’s father—”
“I know,” interrupted Lucy hastily. “That was fortunate for me. Otherwise what should I have done for the trimming of my gown?”
“Lucy,” said Mrs. Thorpe sharply, “I think that you have grown almost callous.”
“Oh, no,” said Lucy, with a slight catch in her throat. “It is only that sometimes I don’t believe it can be true! But even if I have grown callous, isn’t it better to be callous and comfortable than to care and be hurt—as you will be when they make the Traceys president?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Oh, the wind blows the straws in that direction! For one thing, she knows that the trustees mean to cut down expenses, and that the three younger instructor are to be asked to resign.”
“Mr. Carter told us this afternoon that it was a profound secret.”
“She has known it for weeks! If Mr. Tracey is not promoted in some way—they go.”
“Of course they go. I cannot see where any of your straws are blowing.”
“The trustees all asked to be invited over there this evening after the meeting.”
“How absurd! Who told you such a thing?”
“Mr. Carter. And Mr. Tracey has been to see every member of the board of trustees the last month and has had a long talk with each one of them. To-night they are to have the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Tracey to see what kind of a president’s wife she will make.”
“It is impossible!”
Lucy began to laugh softly. “After all—what does it matter to papa? He is himself; there is not a man in this whole faculty that comes above his knees. Besides, if the trustees mean to dismiss the three younger instructors, the Traceys are fighting for their lives.”
“And her intolerable conduct this evening is to be set down to the amenities of legitimate warfare?” cried Mrs. Thorpe, stung by this wanton defence-of the enemy. “Is there anything, Lucy, that you care for? At times 1 am inclined to believe that you have no heart at all.”
Lucy looked down at her sleeve and smiled. “It is fortunate, perhaps, that I .am not wearing it in any conspicuous place this evening,” she said, rising. “Good night, mama dear; I am tired;” and she went into the house.
Mrs. Thorpe left her seat, and. pushing the long steamer-chair upon which her daughter had been sitting, a little farther into the shadows, threw herself down upon it. Every bone and muscle in her body ached and throbbed. She had risen at dawn in order to compress a day’s hard work into the early morning; she had cooked, she had swept, and then had been on her feet making visits throughout the whole of the long hot afternoon, but at last the merciful quiet of the warm June night overcame her, and she fell asleep.
Nearly an hour passed before she was awakened by Professor Thorpe, who was slowly coming up the gravel walk. He sank down at the top of the steps with a tired sigh, and took off his close-fitting Oxford cap to fan himself; but suddenly, as if he had forgotten something, he sprang up and was half way across the porch when he halted, returned to his place and sat down again, drumming nervously upon his knee with the tips of his fingers.
Mrs. Thorpe watched him uneasily. “Is the meeting over?” she inquired.
“Oh! Are you there? Yes, they have adjourned. Tracey invited them to his house; I don’t care much for beer and smoke, so I came home.”
“Beer and smoke for the trustees? I wonder that he dared!”
“Oh, the trustees will like it, it will make them feel modern,” he said, absently resuming the noiseless tattoo upon his knee.
Mrs. Thorpe waited in some anxiety; she had seen her husband do that before.
“Judge Mellish has come.” He made the announcement to a large star that was just then appearing above the tops of the oak trees.
“Has he?” She tried lo speak indifferently. “Where is he staying?”
The professor seemed embarrassed. “He—really—has nowhere to stay.”
Mrs. Thorpe drew herself upright with difficulty; rest had given her muscles time to stiffen. “Nowhere to stay? Oh, William, you haven’t asked him here?”
“He is old and feeble, and—I thought his-coming might put an end to gossip. As for a room, I will sleep in the attic, and you can take Lucy with you.”
“Very well, I will go and tell him that he must stay up at the tavern. He was your father’s oldest friend. I thought you would prefer to have him here. I asked Tracey to take him in but he said that their guest room was occupied.”
“Yes, by Miss Jones.”
“Not the dressmaker?”
“And they have two other rooms that they could use if they chose.”
“Since they do not choose, I must tell that old man to go back to the tavern.”
Mrs. Thorpe pressed her hands together. “I cannot ask Lucy to move for him,” she said, rising and going toward the door.
Her husband at once began to look more cheerful. ‘‘I know Lucy better than you do,” he called encouragingly. “She will be glad to move.”
“You do not know her at all better than I!” cried Mrs. Thorpe, with a quiver of anger in her voice. “She is quite as likely-to be disagreeable as pleasant about it.”
“Come back as soon as you can,” he called. “They will be over here in a few minutes.” And after some brief reflections upon the unfathomable mysteries of domestic friction, he so completely turned his thoughts to other things that when Mrs. Thorpe came back he did not even remember to ask her whether Lucy had justified his faith in her or not. “There comes Judge Mellish now,” he said.
“What we want, gentlemen, is young blood, young blood,” a husky voice kept repeating. “No worn-out, middle-aged man is going to be able to put new life and vigor into this old institution. No, sir; young blood is what we need—young blood, sir!”
“So I heard Tracey telling you,” remarked Judge Slocum’s-uncompromising tones.
“Ah, that is a fine fellow!” and old Judge Mellish came shambling into sight leaning on the arm of Mr. Carter, the youngest member of the board of trustees.
“I shouldn’t be surprised if he told him that, too,” said Judge Slocum to Mr. Carter, as they climbed the steps together.
“No, sir, he did not; his wife told me that,” said Judge Mellish, shaking hands with Mrs. Thorpe with great dignity, “A most cordial and delightful woman! She wanted to keep me there for the night, but said she didn’t dare interfere with you, Lucilla.”
“But I am not Lucilla,” objected Mrs. Thorpe. “I am Elizabeth.”
“Of course,” said Judge Mellish. “I should have known it; but tell me something more of these delightful young neighbors of yours.”
When, at last, she went upstairs to bed, it seemed to Mrs. Thorpe that she had passed a little eternity listening to the praises of the Traceys. “If your father had done some of the things Judge Mellish told me about Mr. Tracey, the whole board of trustees would be crying out in condemnation,” she bitterly remarked to Lucy.
“Mr. Tracey is just a decent, ordinary kind of a person, but not at all in the same category with papa,” Lucy answered sleepily, with the exasperating charity of youthful indifference.
Mrs. Thorpe blew out the candle and stretched herself upon a lounge that she-had drawn, for coolness, near the window. The night was very close; hardly a breath of air penetrated the thick foliage outside. A cautious step stole along the boards of the attic overhead; she knew that it was her husband going to the window above to escape the suffocating heat. The leaves at the tops of the dark trees in the wide park rustled and whispered; for a while Mrs. Thorpe watched them as they rocked slowly, back and forth against the dark, blue, midnight sky; then, sighing, she fell asleep.
For an hour or two all Dulwich was very quiet; but at last, from far at the other end of the village, there came a faint sound of singing. Lucy sat up noiselessly, put her feet carefully to the floor, and resting her weight mainly upon her hands, leaned forward to listen. The moon had risen and the room was filled with a gray pallor; poised there at the bedside, Lucy looked like some ethereal creature of the woods or of the clouds. Cautiously she ventured to rest her weight upon the old floor that scarcely creaked as she stole across it to the window farthest from her mother’s couch and knelt there, looking out. Leading from the house to the main path through the park was a short avenue of trees; down this the moon was shining full in her face; she could see the valley below the college hill, brimming with silvery mist. The sound of the singing drew nearer. Clear and sweet in the summer night, the fresh, young men’s voices passed the opening at the end of the avenue and again grew fainter in the distance.
Mrs. Thorpe had opened her eyes, but she had not stirred. Drawing her breath regularly and serenely, she watched her daughter, and as she watched she prayed —prayed with a passion and with insistence; stormed the throne of God with protests, with appeals, almost with threats; besought the gift of happiness for her child; begged that some mysterious, unexpected, beautiful good fortune should come to her; demanded that the injustice of a broken heart might not be visited upon her: “Have we not suffered sufficiently? Have we not been stinted in necessities, narrowed by circumstance, and balked of ambition, for three generations? Is it not enough, O Lord, enough!” The voice of her soul cried aloud with an exceeding bitter cry but her body lay still and her bosom rose and fell peacefully, as if in untroubled slumber.
Above her, looking out at the same sky, her husband knelt, speaking softly, as if in converse with a friend; asking nothing for himself or for his own, but praying for the institution in whose service he had spent his days, lavished his force, and poured out all his gifts. He prayed that those to whose arbitrary, half-indifferent hands the future of his beloved college was entrusted, might be guided to know and choose the better man. He prayed for courage and resignation; he prayed for loyalty, for charity, for wisdom; and meekly asked the gift of that unregarded thing—tact—which should make his wisdom acceptable. Then, his thoughts straying toward the days to come, all unconscious of the gentle withdrawal of his Friend, he rose from his knees and sat looking into the night, shaping the wise schemes which were the answers to his prayer.
But Lucy—watching the shadows of the shrubbery creep across the garden path listening to the far-off cry of the whippoorwills—neither strove nor prayed; she suffered, as the young only know how.
Majestic, yet furtive, the moon slipped away among the mysteriously swaying branches of the tallest trees, and, as the wide, deep sky paled in its pathway, the girl’s breath came quick in sympathetic fear. Thin, clear sounds, faint, spicy fragrances impinged upon the outer edge of the enchanted silence of the night, and youth, and love, and nature received from pain their last touch of perfection.
Sparkling and radiant, the sun rose over Dulwich the next morning, and with it rose Mrs. Thorpe. It was nearly time for breakfast before the greater portion of her tasks was finished, and she was carrying a tall vase of flowers into the drawing-room, when the sound of voices arrested her steps.
“It’s a fine picture of a very fine gentleman!” Judge Mellish, in his husky tones, was addressing some one at the other side of the room.
Mrs. Thorpe came forward, and put the vase down upon the table.
Judge Slocum, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, stood, with his legs wide apart, in front of a portrait which hung over the fireplace. “Humph! that’s President Wentworth all over again. A regular old Dulwich aristocrat!” he said. “I remember him well. Many’s the time he’s made me feel as if I were not fit to breathe the same air with him.”
Mrs. Thorpe’s little figure dilated. “At that age you really showed remarkable discernment, in so truly appreciating the relative value of his character;” she said.
Judge Slocum turned abruptly from the picture and stood a moment, studying her features. “You were always like him,” he announced.
“D—d—damn like him!” said Judge Mellish, with a little giggle. “Never noticed it before. Come here, Lucilla.”
Mrs. Thorpe turned toward the part of the room where the old judge was sitting; he put his hands on the arms of his chair, and rising painfully, stood tottering on his feet. “And what put it into your head to jilt my George, Lucilla?” he demanded, bending forward to look into her face.
Judge Slocum took a couple steps that brought him directly behind the older man and pursed his lips in a half whistle of amusement.
“But I never jilted George,” said Mrs. Thorpe; “and I am Elizabeth, you know.”
Judge Mellish turned his head and looked out of the window. “You jilted somebody,” he said thoughtfully.
Behind him Judge Slocum’s face took on an impish grin; he placed two fingers on his heart and bowed to Mrs. Thorpe ironically.
“I may have refused some one; a woman is never responsible for the impertinences of other people!” she said, her cheeks turning bright crimson; “but I never jilted anybody.”
“Surely I remember something of the kind,” said Judge Mellish hazily. “I must be growing old—like Slocum here,” he added maliciously.
“There’s a good quarter of a century between us!” cried Judge Slocum indignantly.
Judge Mellish seemed to be collecting his scattered faculties. “If twenty-five years were the only difference between us,” he now returned smartly, “you might consider yourself a lucky man, Slocum.—And so, Lucilla”—addressing Mrs. Thorpe again—“you don’t want your husband to be president.”
“But I am not Lucilla,” stammered Mrs. Thorpe.
“Oh, yes,” said Judge Mellish, “but that doesn’t answer my question.”
“My husband has always preferred the life of a scholar.” She had said it so often that it fell from her lips quite mechanically.
“That’s what Mrs. Tracey told me,” interrupted the old judge. “Wonderfully fine woman, that! So sympathetic with the boys; makes her house pleasant for them—told me so herself.”
“I’ll warrant she did!” said Judge Slocum.
“But I should have thought, Elizabeth—you are Elizabeth, aren’t you?” resumed Judge Mellish—“that you’d have taken more interest in the position for your father’s sake. Now that man Tracey seemed to feel that it would be more of a pleasure to him than a burden.”
“It probably would,” said Judge Slocum.
“Kind-hearted fellow he is, too,” Judge Mellish went on. “Said that worrying about the boys’ mischief and the abnormal sense of responsibility your husband felt were really driving him to his grave.”
“Oh, bosh!” said Judge Slocum. “Are you going to let him pull the wool over your eyes like that, Mellish?”
“Well now, what we want, I suppose, is young blood, ready for the fray, full of vitality. Yes, yes, yes; young blood, young—”
He stopped suddenly, and even the set expression of extreme old age could not hide his confusion. “Good morning, child,” he said to Lucy Thorpe, who stood in the doorway.
She was taller than her mother, and carried her head with the same unconscious haughtiness that Judge Slocum found so objectionable in her grandfather. A faint smile, half mischievous, crossed her face, as she detected Judge Mellish’s embarrassment. “I have come to say that breakfast is ready,” she announced.
“Well,” said Judge Slocum, walking past her through the door and leading the way to the dining-room, “I guess I’m ready too. I suppose Carter’s late to breakfast, as usual. Has he asked you yet, this time?” He glanced back over his shoulder and laughed meaningly at Lucy.
Lucy was one of the few people who never lost temper with Judge Slocum. “Asked me what?” she said calmly; but the judge had hurried on to the dining-room and had taken his place at the table. “No time to lose!” he said, as the others followed him.
They were scarcely seated when Mr. Carter entered.
“I see, he hasn’t asked you yet,” Judge Slocum whispered to Lucy, in a loud aside. “He looks too cheerful.”
Mr. Carter, who was bowing over Mrs. Thorpe’s hand with elaborate courtesy, suddenly retired to his place at the table, his fresh color heightened by an embarrassment that partook more of rage than of confusion.
“Can you show me where that break in the fence is—the one down by the river?” he said to Lucy a little later, under cover of a warm discussion of college politics, which had sprung up among the older men. “I am the chairman of the committee on repairs, you know.”
“It is at the foot of the path, down the hill,” said Lucy. “You can’t fail to find it. There is not the slightest use in my going with you.”
“Are you sure?” He looked at her meaningly. “Not the slightest?”
She shook her head sadly. “Not the least in the world.”
The short, stout, middle-aged little man smiled bravely, and continued to look her honestly in the eyes. “Then come any way, and take a walk.”
Courage and magnanimity are not bad qualities; Lucy wavered.
“Come,” he repeated. “I have something to tell you—oh, I’ll play fair! Never fear.”
“Very well,” said Lucy gently; “but you always play fair.”
Mr. Carter stretched his legs under the table and leaned back in his chair. “Thus far through life,” he said, “I have managed to put up a pretty clean game; but it is due more to favoring circumstances than to moral stamina.”
Lucy only looked at him and laughed; but there was a world of affection and trust in her glance. “I am going out this other door for my hat,” she said. “I shall be ready in a minute.”
As she left the dining-room, Mrs. Thorpe rose hastily from her seat and followed her. “Lucy,” she said.
Lucy turned, her arm still raised to take the hat from its hook. Something in her mother’s eager yet deprecating expression caused her brows to draw together forbiddingly. “Yes, mama?”
“Lucy—think well. Benjamin Carter is a good man!”
“Too good—for that!”
“Mama!” She swept by; a little whirlwind of scorn and reproach, and hurried to join Mr. Carter, who was waiting at the front door.
They walked down the hill under the oak trees toward the river; but the break in the fence made very little impression upon the chairman of the committee on repairs. He looked at it with a preoccupied air, and kicked a loose board or two into the water. “Your mother gave me to understand—” he began, but stopped, deterred by the angry glint in Lucy’s eyes. “In a little talk we had last night,” he went on lamely, “she said that—that—it was distinctly all over between George Mellish and you.”
“What if it is?”
He gave the loose boards another kick that sent the rest of the fence panel into the river. “She mentioned something about a change of climate—”
“Oh, mama!” breathed Lucy.
“Do not misunderstand your mother! She intends to take you South next winter—and I have got a place down there in Florida, a nice little place, and I wondered if she would be willing to borrow it—I thought I had better consult you before I said anything more about it. You want to get well, you know. Sooner or later”—he hesitated—“you and George Mellish are going to make it up; in fact, there’s nothing I’d like better than to lend the little place down there to both of you. He will need the change as much as you will, next winter. Of course, if you really don’t care for him—”
“I never said that! I said that it was all over between us.”
“It sounds pretty much the same thing,” said Mr. Carter.
“No, I mean something different. I am not going to live.”
Mr. Carter selected a strong place in the fence, and, leaning back against it, laughed loud and long. “That is amusing,” he said, “coming from a young woman able to step down this hill in the manner you did just now.”
“There are days,” said Lucy indignantly, “when I can’t even walk down stairs.”
“You mean that there are days when you don’t take enough interest in life to walk down stairs; that is another thing. You have had bronchitis, followed by a nasty cough; that is all that is the matter with you. I asked Dr. Tait.”
“How dared you?”
“Listen, Lucy,” he said seriously; “you have asked me, time and again, to go back and be the same old friend that I was in the days when I used to bring you a doll to commemorate each trustee meeting, and last May I made up my mind to gratify you. It was not easy just at first; but—I have gone back.”
“Where is my doll?’
“Your doll,” said Mr. Carter, “has not yet arrived; but the old friend has; and as such, I have every right to ask Tait how much is wrong with you. And as soon as George Mellish gets well—”
“As soon as George—”
“As soon as he is strong enough to travel, he is coming on; he told me so, just before his relapse. Since then I have written—”
“Relapse?” she interrupted, “relapse?’’
“Do you mean to say you don’t know he has had typhoid fever?”
“I have heard nothing of him since the first of April.”
“I should say not! When I last saw him he couldn’t even lift his head.”
“When was that?”
“About six weeks ago; after I was here on college business early in May. You remember?”
“At that time your mother told me that your engagement was broken, and, as I had business in the West, I thought I would drop in on George Mellish and see—and see—well, I went to find out, on my own account, whether your mother might not have made some mistake. She sometimes—”
“Oh, go on!” said Lucy.
“On to George Mellish, you mean,” said Mr. Carter grimly, “or to me?”
Lucy made no answer except in the devouring anxiety of her eyes.
“When I found him, he had been for weeks at death’s door. The delirium had left him; but the nurse told me that very likely he wouldn’t live, unless he could be reassured about you; and so—I took the liberty of reassuring him! When I left he was improving fast; but later on, I heard that he had a relapse. The fool nurse gave him a lot of letters and things that came for him, and it knocked him flat again.”
“Yes,” said Lucy. “When I didn’t hear from him in answer to my letter breaking off the engagement, I returned him his ring and everything he had ever written to me; it was about a month ago.”
“What possessed you to do so cruel a thing?”
“I did not know that he was ill,” said Lucy miserably, “and mama argued and talked—and Judge Mellish disapproved.”
“It is not a bit like you to mind. You know that Judge Mellish’s opinion does not carry the slightest weight. Last Christmas he was delighted with the whole thing. I wonder what put this new idea into his head.”
“Oh, mama!” cried Lucy bitterly. “She is at the bottom of it all. She never has wanted me to marry George; she says he is like his father—who jilted my Aunt Lucilla—”
“Lucy! You never believed that of George.”
“No, never! But mama insisted that he wanted to be free and was too honorable to ask—and—and I never for a moment thought that George would believe that I was in earnest,” protested Lucy.
“How young people can juggle in this way with their happiness passes belief!”
“But George knows mama so well—and I wanted to be able to show her his letter, and to convince her, once for all—”
“Oh, folly!” Mr. Carter almost groaned. “More than folly!”
“I have never heard from him since; not a word—no message—not anything. Do not look at me in that way! He—” she stopped to steady her voice. “He is not dead?”
“You know he is not dead!” said Mr. Carter impatiently.
Lucy turned away and began to climb slowly up the path.
“It will all come out right in the end,” he said, following her.
“Then why has he not written?”
“Very likely he is making the same conjecture about you. You forget that he may believe that you know all about his having been ill.”
Lucy hurried on, Mr. Carter panting behind her. “This is not a bad pace—for a dying girl,” he remarked at last, stopping to mop his forehead.
Lucy’s swift walk turned to a run, and the little man ruefully watched her slim figure crossing in and out among the trees until she disappeared by a short cut over a steeper slope of the hill. She did not come home again until nearly two o’clock, and entered the dining-room, when dinner was half over, with a bright spot of color in either cheek and that wide-open look about the eyes that betokens excitement.
Mrs. Thorpe, who was devoured with curiosity in regard to the result of the interview with Mr. Carter, found herself shaking so nervously that she almost lost the thread of the skilful game of “twenty questions” through which she was extracting much valuable information from the three unconscious trustees. The board had spent a profitable morning cutting down the minor expenses: the street lamps were not to be lighted in the college park, as heretofore on moonless nights; the grass was to be mown once a month, and the services of three younger instructors were to be dispensed with. They had also squeezed the chairs of Greek, Latin, Political Economy, and the German Language into what Judge Slocum irreverently dubbed a “settee;” and they had ordained that the college library should be open only upon Wednesdays and Saturdays. They were so guilelessly happy and contented with themselves that they revealed their proceedings to Mrs. Thorpe quite unconsciously, and were even mildly regretful when her husband, with a stormy brow, led her firmly away from the question of the presidency, which, with infinite tact, she had finally approached.
“Are you going to the ball game, Lucy?” he asked. “I met Mrs. Tracey this morning, and she wanted to know if you could not come over and pour tea for her afterwards. She is going to invite a few people in.”
Mrs. Thorpe groaned inwardly. Why had he turned the talk upon the Traceys? If those men once began upon them, they would never leave them! There was an evil fascination in the subject. She rose so hastily from her seat, that Judge Slocum, rising with the rest, was compelled to pick up his saucer and finish his dessert standing.
“You look tired, Lucy,” she said; “had you not better lie down, and let me send Mrs. Tracey word that you don’t feel well enough to go?”
“Oh, no,” said Lucy, “I will run over and let her know that I am coming, now.”
“Wait a minute,” cried Mrs. Thorpe; but Lucy was gone, and her mother did not see her again until evening. “You are quite worn out,” she said to her when supper was over.
“Not a bit,” said Lucy; “but I am in a hurry. I am going to the dance to-night with Mr. Carter.”
Lucy looked at her mother with angry eyes. “How happy it would make you!” she said.
“And have you? Will you? Are you going to?”
“Yes,” said Lucy cruelly; “I am going upstairs to take a nap before the dance. Don’t let anyone disturb me.”
Mr. Carter, who was not accustomed to balls, overslept the next morning. Before he had begun breakfast, Judge Mellish and Judge Slocum had hurried away to the trustee meeting, which had been convened at an early hour in order to finish important business before the Commencement exercises.
“Carter will be too late to do any good,” said Professor Thorpe, watching him running across the grass toward the library. “Help me on with my gown, my dear, and be sure you and Lucy are in time to see us march in. Next year—it will be Tracey who will walk in your father’s place.”
“They can’t seriously regard him as a candidate!”
“I am afraid they do. What astonishes me is the way in which he contrives to hear everything. He got wind of all that went on in the meeting yesterday—the cutting down of the minor expenses, you know.”
Mrs. Thorpe’s lips narrowed in a thin smile. “Being a minor expense himself, I suppose it interested him.”
“It did. And when we were over there yesterday afternoon, he managed to outline to the trustees who were present the policy which he should advise the new president to adopt; he agreed with them in their desire to retrench, and said that he had already started a subscription among the alumni for the benefit of the college.”
“What earthly right has Tracey to start a subscription among the alumni? If you had done it, it would have been another thing.”
“The point is that I didn’t do it,” said Professor Thorpe dryly. “I have unfortunately no taste for begging.” And he hurried away to join the procession that was already forming in the distance.
Mrs. Thorpe and Lucy started toward the chapel in silence. The mother had not yet recovered from the wounds that her daughter had dealt her the day before. As they stood waiting for the procession to pass, Mrs. Tracey joined them, radiant in the new gown which had busied the dressmaker’s fingers during the previous week.
“Oh, Lucy,” she said, “you really do look almost too elegant for our simple Dulwich Commencement! Still, I suppose we ought to be glad to see anything so handsome. It’s an ill wind which blows nobody any good.”
“I am sure,” said Mrs. Thorpe, with dignity, “that no one can complain of an ill wind to-day.”
“Well, I hope we shall all continue to feel so,” said Mrs. Tracey. “There is no knowing what those trustees may have done in the meeting this morning. I suppose you haven’t got anything out of Mr. Carter, Lucy? Under the circumstances he would be justified in giving you a hint.”
“I am afraid Mr. Carter was late to the meeting,” said Lucy. “The last I saw of him he was rushing across the grass to the library, at about a quarter of ten o’clock.”
“He couldn’t have got there in time,” said Mrs. Tracey eagerly. “Dear me! if I had been you, Mrs. Thorpe, I would have seen that Mr. Carter got to that meeting earlier. A good deal depends upon a single vote, and Mr. Carter—”
Her voice was drowned in the blare of horns from the band that headed the procession, which had started from the upper end of the park. Mrs. Thorpe drew Lucy to one side, hoping in that way to escape their unwelcome companion, and for the moment it seemed as if she might be successful in her manœuvre; for a breathless student running ahead of the procession, prevented Mrs. Tracey from following them, as he whispered something in her ear.
“Come up upon the steps, Lucy, where we can see over their heads,” said Mrs. Thorpe, as the line of students, dividing in two, made a way for the members of the faculty to march through. Between the rows of waiting men, the Bishop of the Diocese came first, and at his side marched Professor Thorpe, who, when he saw his wife and daughter, smiled half humorously, half compassionately, and passed on.
“Why, what under the sun is the matter with Mr. Carter?” said Mrs. Tracey’s voice behind them. “His face is as white as a sheet, and he has not even looked at us. Oh, Lucy, have you been refusing that poor man again?”
But Lucy and Mrs. Thorpe, making another effort to escape persecution, disappeared into the chapel.
With the exception of three or four seats in front, which were reserved for the families of the president and faculty, the church was full when they entered. Mrs. Thorpe’s little head took on an even more stately tilt than usual, as she passed down to her place in the first pew, congratulating herself upon having finally shaken off Mrs. Tracey, whose rightful place was four seats behind; but as she turned to let Lucy go into the pew before her, to her surprise Mrs. Tracey stood at her elbow. “I know you’ll let me come in with you, Mrs. Thorpe,” she said; “the whole tribe of Lincoln children are in my seat, and there isn’t an inch of room left.”
Mrs. Thorpe stood aside reluctantly; Lucy seated herself at the upper end.
“Do go in,” said Mrs. Tracey. “I couldn’t think of separating you.”
“Lucy can come down next to me,” said Mrs. Thorpe stiffly.
“Oh, let poor Lucy-stay there against the column—it’s so much less conspicuous.” She put her hand on Mrs. Thorpe’s arm, and gently pushed her; it was a point of etiquette in Dulwich that the end seat of the pew was occupied by the owner, and, as Mrs. Tracey took that place, Lucy caught a glance of unmistakable anger and resentment passing between Judge Slocum and Mr. Carter. With one accord those two gentlemen bent forward from the platform and bowed pointedly to her and her mother. Mrs. Tracey lifted her head in expectation that this recognition would be extended to her, but Judge Slocum and Mr. Carter fell to conversing, apparently much interested in each other.
“How very friendly they seem,” said Mrs. Thorpe, in a low voice to her daughter; “and yet the judge was scolding Mr. Carter with all his might, as they passed us on our way into the chapel.”
“Yes; I heard him say, ‘But for your confounded laziness, Carter, this thing never would have happened.”
“Ah,” said Lucy, “they have elected Mr. Tracey president, and she knows it.”
“Therefore we have this pleasure,” said Mrs. Thorpe, with an expressive glance at the figure in the corner.
“She couldn’t have done a better thing,” said Lucy; “everyone will believe that you knew it beforehand and asked her to sit there.”
“Hush!” said Mrs. Thorpe, “the bishop is going to pray.”
Lucy was in no mood for prayer; slipping forward to her knees, yet half sitting back, she achieved a position of irreverence from which, with wide-open eyes, she reviewed the board of trustees, and especially Judge Slocum—who was apparently winking at her in undisguised amusement—with angry scorn. Ever since her childhood she had regarded him with a mixture of familiarity and antagonism, and now, as she returned his gaze defiantly, she became aware that his eyes were telegraphing toward a row of pews to the right of the platform. Involuntarily she glanced in the same direction; a young man who had come in late was making his way past an indignant line of worshippers to a place left vacant at the extreme end of the bench. Lucy could not see his face, but there was no need of that; before he had turned she knew him; white and breathless, she leaned forward, resting her beating heart upon her clasped hands, and George Mellish, sinking to his knees, folded his arms upon the top of the rail in front of him and looked across at her.
One long, grave moment the two young things looked into each other’s hearts. There was no need of anything else.
When the prayer was over and the congregation settled into place, Lucy leaned toward her mother. “Do you suppose papa knows?” she asked.
“No,” said Mrs. Thorpe. “Of course they have not told him; that is the way in which they manage.”
“But Mrs. Tracey knows.”
“That is her way of managing.”
“How can we get word to him?”
“To your father! Why should we get word to your father?”
“He might be startled—” Lucy hesitated. “Perhaps he might show that he was disappointed.”
Mrs. Thorpe’s upper lip lifted in a faint smile, but she was not amused. “And you know your father no better than that! He does not care; if he ever had, the outcome would have been different. But there is something I want to say to you; please control yourself and sit quietly. George Mellish is over in the corner, under the window.”
It was Lucy’s turn to look at her mother with the same faintly scornful smile. “I saw him when he came in, long ago,” she said.
Mrs. Thorpe’s eyes eagerly questioned further, but Lucy’s face remained a blank. The mother and daughter were very far apart just then, and in spite of the close chapel and the hot June day, Mrs. Thorpe shivered. “She will never be the same again. I have not deserved this,” she kept telling herself; “I have not deserved it.”
The young orators thundered on, some of them even inspired by the two tense faces turned upon them from the front seat; but not until everybody rose, and the band in the gallery began to play a cheerful tune, were Mrs. Thorpe and Lucy aware that the Valedictory had been delivered. The exercises had already been too long, and after a short intermission the music stopped, everybody rustled back again to his seat, and the endless conferring of degrees began. Wild outbursts of applause diversified the monotony when some successful political candidate was made an A.M. The long list of Doctors of Divinity only awakened a tempered enthusiasm; but this gave way to continued and obstinate approval in the vociferous grace before meat that greeted the bestowal of an LL.D. upon a wealthy capitalist from a neighboring town.
“‘For what we are about to receive,’” whispered Lucy wickedly.
“Be careful!” said her mother. “Why is your father changing his place?”
Professor Thorpe had quietly left the president’s seat, and was moving toward the side of the platform where his colleagues sat together; they looked at each other for one moment of surprise, then every man but Tracey sprang to his feet. At the sight of those white, loyal, uplifted faces Lucy’s heart brimmed over with adoring pride. “There is no one like him,” she murmured. “He always does the perfect thing out of pure greatness of spirit; mama, mama, is there any tact like the tact of being upright—clearly and cleanly upright, and unselfish, and—?
Mrs. Thorpe drew her breath hard.
“Hush,” she said sharply; for until this moment, in spite of all knowledge and conviction, she had hoped against hope.
The bishop, who was a man of many resources, had approached the front of the platform, and was waiting, with an indulgent smile, for the ripple of whispered question and surmise to subside among the audience. “In his eagerness to return to the realm of pure learning, Professor Thorpe has forestalled the first part of my announcement,” he said. “It only remains for me, on behalf of the board of trustees, to tender him a vote of thanks for his unremitting watchfulness and care of the college interests. We recognize, with deep regret, that the world of literature and science has a paramount claim upon his services, and we relinquish him most reluctantly, to take the place so universally accorded him, of leader in the vanguard of great scholars whose attainments are the pride and glory of our country!”
He paused. An outspoken lady in the seat behind audibly said “Humph!” Mrs. Thorpe always loved her for it thereafter. There was a faint scattering of applause, but people were too anxious to hear what came next to male any prolonged interruption.
Discarding the written notes he had used hitherto, the bishop took a step forward, and continued impressively: “To the position of president of this time-honored institution—thus left vacant—the trustees have elected one who, though scarcely older than those who are to be his charge, has shown in an unusual degree an aptitude and fitness for the office—”
The sharp, deafening crackle of clapping hands drowned his concluding words; it swept the house like a discharge of small fire-arms; then students cheered, throwing up their hats and shouting wildly, and women waved their handkerchiefs in an hysterical contagion of enthusiasm. Every body rose and the audience began to leave the chapel.
“Really, he can’t be so bad if people care for him like that,” said Lucy, under cover of the noise.
Mrs. Thorpe made no reply; she felt deserted, almost betrayed. Then, unmistakably a great lady, and perfect mistress of the occasion, she leaned toward Mrs. Tracey, smiling graciously, and shook hands with her in congratulation.
“Oh, I am so glad you don’t feel any ill-will,” stammered Mrs. Tracey. “Of course, I know it is a fearful disappointment to you, and I must say you take it beautifully, but—“
Mrs. Thorpe waved away her apologies with an amused smile. “You must let Lucy congratulate you also,” she said.
But George Mellish had hastened forward and he and Lucy were standing together, so absorbed in what they were saying that they had forgotten they were hand in hand.
Mrs. Thorpe bowed to him stiffly. “You are forgetting to speak to Mrs. Tracey, Lucy,” she said.
“Mrs. Tracey?” said Lucy. “Was there anything particular to say to her?” George laughed gleefully.
“Only to congratulate her upon Mr. Tracey’s election,” said her mother.
The blood mantled Lucy’s face. “Oh, I do hope you aren’t going to cry,” said Mrs. Tracey deprecatingly. “I was almost certain that you, at least, wouldn’t mind.”
“Yes?” said Lucy, turning back again to George Mellish. “Mind what?”
The babel of cheering and howling began to abate, and Professor Thorpe, after shaking hands with the president-elect, turned to go down from the platform. Quite unconscious of being observed, he looked reassuringly into his wife’s troubled face, and, throwing back his shoulders as a man does when he drops a heavy load—“Ouf!” he said, with an intonation of genuine relief.
A little ripple of laughter and applause rose among the people nearest, spread back through all the building, and then rolled in return like a thundering wave. George Mellish jumped on the platform. “Three cheers for Professor Thorpe!” he shouted.
The cheers were roared in answer. “Gentlemen, gentlemen!” said the bishop, waving his arms unavailingly. “Remember where we are! There has been no benediction!” But the audience, once started, preferred to stream out of the building, unblessed.
Mrs. Thorpe and Lucy were among the last, following Mrs. Tracey, who chattered and laughed incessantly.
“What possesses her?” whispered Lucy to her mother.
“Herself; it is the first time, since she came to Dulwich, that she has dared to feel at home.”
“Oh, come, my dear,” said Professor Thorpe, “let her enjoy it.”
Mrs. Thorpe flushed at the implied reproach; she knew that she had borne herself creditably—for no one could suspect the well of bitterness that flowed beneath her smiling composure; but with Lucy and her husband, the source itself of bitterness was wanting. They followed her, contentedly detached, as they watched the mass of students seething, in an ecstasy of legitimate howling, below the chapel steps; where they were waiting for Mr. Tracey’s appearance.
He came out, descended in jaunty self-possession, one thumb tucked into his trousers pocket, his mortarboard tipped over his nose, and his gown thrown back upon his shoulders. Stopping a moment, he surveyed the students with a look of genial comradeship, that changed to vague dismay as the college base-ball nine swept down upon him, seized him, mounted him on their shoulders, and carried him in somewhat unsteady triumph toward the hall where the alumni were to dine; Mrs. Tracey following, with shrill shrieks of excited laughter.
“Hadn’t you better come over to the dinner and hear the speeches?” said Professor Thorpe. “They have a table for the ladies in the gallery.”
Mrs. Thorpe shook her head. “Why should I?” she asked coldly.
“Do come,” he urged, as Mrs. Tracey’s resounding tones came back to them. “You might be able to prevent her making of herself such a—” he paused, too courteous to finish.
“Some things,” said Mrs. Thorpe, “are born.”
Lucy’s laugh trilled out suddenly, and was as suddenly repressed.
Her father bit his lip. “Never mind, my dear,” he said indulgently; “you are all tired out. Lucy will come in your place.”
It was maddening! Mrs. Thorpe turned away and almost ran up the path toward her own house; she felt that she could not endure her life.
The hot, hazy afternoon wore on. Lucy and her father came back late from the dinner, bringing Judge Mellish and Judge Slocum to say good-by. “You must be good to my George,” the old man said to Lucy, holding her hand and looking down at her. “He has nearly managed to slip through our fingers this time.”
Judge Slocum laughed significantly.
“Not her fingers—you wilfully misunderstand, Slocum,” said the old man. “The boy was very ill out West there, and Mrs. Thorpe’s opposition to his marriage with her daughter, coming as it did just at the turn of the disease, threw him back into a relapse. Gad! if that thing had been broken off, one of the dearest hopes of my life would have been blighted—one of the dearest hopes,” he wandered on, “for I have always thought, Lucilla”—his hazy eyes turned uncertainly from Mrs. Thorpe to Lucy and then back again—“I have always thought, Lucilla, that you probably cared more for my son George than you ever did for anybody else in the world.” And he stooped and kissed Lucy’s hand.
“I do believe the old fellow has at last hit the nail on the head!” Judge Slocum muttered, in amiable valedictory.
Evening came; George Mellish did not appear, and Mrs. Thorpe, too proud to ask any questions, was moving restlessly to and fro in the house, touching a book here and arranging a flower there. Her husband had gone up to his study to read a novel, for the first time in eighteen months. It was an amusing novel, and his bursts of laughter sounded through the open windows in sheer wanton lightness of heart.
Lucy and Mr. Carter were sitting together out on the porch. “Are you tired?” he asked.
“No; only quiet.”
“Where is Mellish?”
“He went to Littleton, I think.”
Mr. Carter sat up startled. “Do you mean to say,” he began, “that you haven’t come to any—I beg your pardon!” He rose, pretending to examine the porch railing, and, in his embarrassment, he shook it so violently that a piece of it came off in his hand.
“Abominable state these buildings have been allowed to fall into!” he said impatiently.
“What are you doing to my baluster?” said Mrs. Thorpe, appearing at the window.
“Your baluster has come to pieces in my hand,” returned Mr. Carter. “This house needs a thorough course of repairs. I mentioned the matter in the trustee meeting this afternoon, and they all agreed with me; so if you have anything that you would specially like to have done, Mrs. Thorpe, you had better point it out to me now.”
He stepped through the window, and Lucy heard them moving about the house together. “What a judicious bribe,” she murmured, leaning back against the pillar of the porch, and watching the stars come out in the still rosy sky. She was waiting for George Mellish, who had been compelled to go with his grandfather to Littleton;—the old judge had an unfortunate way of taking the wrong train, when left to conduct his travels alone. George hoped to be back in Dulwich by half-past nine or ten o’clock; but Lucy had told no one. They were all in league against her, she thought; she meant to run no risks.
At the end of about an hour Mr. Carter and her mother came out again. Mrs. Thorpe’s look of disappointed bitterness had given place to animation and interest. “Lucy! You are not out here yet?” she said. “It is very damp.”
Lucy moved her head lazily. “I am quite comfortable,” she answered, “and Mr. Carter wants me to wait here until he has smoked his cigar. Don’t you, Mr. Carter?”
Mrs. Thorpe was puzzled. “Could it possibly be?” she asked herself. “Are you willing to take the responsibility of a disobedient child, Mr. Carter?” she said after a moment’s hesitation.
“If you will give me a shawl or something to put around her, I’ll undertake to see that she doesn’t catch cold,” he said, following Mrs. Thorpe into the house; but when he came back with her cloak, Lucy disdainfully refused to put it on.
Mr. Carter sat down at the end of the step, lighted his cigar, and learned back against the opposite pillar. “What have you got against your mother?” he asked, after he had smoked four or five minutes in unbroken silence.
“Against my mother?” repeated Lucy, with an attempt at dignity; “what could I have against my mother?”
“Why don’t you tell her?”
“That you are waiting here until George Mellish comes back from Littleton.”
“She would not be specially interested; or else, if she were, she would—manage—and I should not see him. She would ask me if we had ‘come to an understanding.’”
Mr. Carter smoked on a few moments in silence. “I think you are unjust and cruel,” he said at last.
“It is not I who have been cruel!” said Lucy. “From the very first of our engagement she has taken it for granted that George would do something dishonorable. A perpetual dribble of insinuation has worn out all the joy of our lives, and even you—she has kept on—”
“Nothing of the kind!” exclaimed Mr. Carter. “I have stayed on because I wished to stay on, and because— You will be furious with me, but—how—how was I to know that you cared for George Mellish? When a girl really loves a man she does not allow herself to be—managed.”
“If a girl believes in her mother, and has always admired and trusted her, and her mother keeps insisting—but I shall never trust her again!” she cried, in a little burst of fury. “She has made me angry! She has made me desperate; and she has behaved most outrageously about you!”
“Lucy!” Mr. Carter’s voice had a deep note of warning in it.
“She has made use of you. She has! You cannot deny it. You, who have always been so good!”
Mr. Carter rose and walked down to the foot of the steps, where he stood with his back to Lucy, smoking and looking up at the stars. A slight noise behind him made him turn his head. Lucy was crying; his teeth bit sharply on the cigar, and his hands, that were clasped loosely behind him, suddenly clenched together. “Oh, I wouldn’t do that!” he said, and puffed out a little jet of smoke; “it—it isn’t worth crying for!”
“And—over at the dinner to-day—George said that if you hadn’t sent for him—”
“Do not make me out an utter idiot!” snapped Mr. Carter. “Did I want George Mellish here? I telegraphed to him on business—his grandfather’s business.”
“And you have a right to be told,” said Lucy, her voice husky with tears, “that I have always loved you! You know I have—in a way.”
Mr. Carter smoked fiercely for a few moments before he answered. “Yes,” he said at last, “you always have—in a way. But you had better dry your eyes now; I see somebody coming. I think that it is—my last doll.”
But Lucy had not heard him. She was skimming down the walk to meet George Mellish, who was hurrying, half running, across the grass.
In the room above the porch Mrs. Thorpe flitted restlessly back and forth between the window and her couch. Her husband was sleeping profoundly; she glanced at him impatiently, as he caught his breath fitfully, like a tired child who has wept and been comforted. A step on the gravel path under the window at the side of the house drew her restless supervision in that direction. Mr. Carter was passing out slowly through the gate; she stole back again toward the front and looked down. In the light from the hall lamp she saw George Mellish and Lucy coming up the avenue together.
“She was waiting for him!” she murmured. “And she would not tell me—her mother!” Her heart ran over with bitterness; she longed to call Lucy in; she even tried to persuade herself that it might be her duty to do so. “I shall not allow George Mellish to deceive her again,” she whispered passionately, and leaned far out of the window. Up through the vines came the murmur of voices; but she could not see beyond the roof of the porch.
Minutes passed; toward twelve o’clock Mr. Carter sauntered slowly back, spoke a word or two, and then climbed the stairs to his own room. The surrounding world soon knew that he was asleep.
It was not romantic, but out there in the park, sitting on the steps of the college chapel, amidst the warm, dark, silent shadows of the great old trees, the dear little gentleman had told himself, very truly, that he was done with romance.
Mrs. Thorpe could hear George and Lucy laughing together softly. The gift of happiness had been bestowed upon her child before it was too late, and the injustice of heartbreak was mysteriously removed. Serene courage also filled the heart of her husband. Courage, and peace, and content had descended upon every one of the household except Mrs. Thorpe herself, who lay there on the lounge and looked out at the night, while the slow, hot tears trickled back from her eyes and fell upon the pillow. “They none of them care,” she whispered. “They none of them care!”
And yet, all her prayers had been answered.
“Pro Tempore” by
Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in
Scribner's Magazine v. 39, no. 6, June 1906; reprinted in
Pro Tempore, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2007.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2007-2008 by Brian Kunde.