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The wind between the worlds online

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And there again it happened as she had foretold. The
window where Miss Bixby sat was not in direct range of


the door, but he was aware of her. Madam Brooke, bent
absurdly double, was asleep in her chair. He advanced
toward her, stopped at a dozen paces and called her
name. She recovered herself with a jerk.

" Stand there," she bade him crisply, " right where you
are while I tell my dream. If you come any nearer,
you'll make me forget. I was dreaming," she recited, in a
voice calculated to carry, " of my brother Samuel, dead
long ago. You've heard me speak of him. He was the
only one that called me Ellen. ' Ellen/ he used to say,
' if I can come back I will, and I'll remind you of the
time we chased the spotted cow to put a wreath of daisies
round her horns.' But he never came," she concluded
mournfully. " He never came."

Whether Miss Bixby pricked up her ears or not, neither
of them knew. Peter Harvey, feeling very much of a
fool, duly waited for the conclusion of Madam Brooke's
rhapsodising and then advanced and took the languid
hand she gave him. She drew him to her and cocked an

" How was that? " she queried. " I hope IVe made
myself clear."

" You have," said he, " you serpent of old Nile,"

She raised her voice and went on improvising. Peter
was ashamed of her, he told her in an aside, and ashamed
of himself for humoring her, and presently she resumed
her natural tone.

" There," she said, " now we'll stop playing the fool.
She's gone."

He turned to look. The table was in order, the chair
before it empty.

" You've the ears of a cat," said he. " I didn't hear

" Hear her! " said she, in her abiding scorn of the un-


ready. Was it necessary, she seemed to ask, to lag so
by the way? " Nor I either. I felt her. Don't you
suppose I know when such a creature as that comes and
goes? It's the pricking of my thumbs."


IT lacked a day of the week Peter Harvey had given
Andrew Dove to prepare for him and his committee of
investigation. Again Madam Brooke had settled herself
in Isabel's sitting-room. These were troublous times in
the house and she hovered more persistently about the
probable scene of action. And to-day, as time passed and
it began to look unlikely that anything significant would
happen, even the usual programme at the table, Isabel
came in with the evident purpose of seeking her. Some-
thing was on her mind.

" Mother/' said she, " who was Samuel? "

Madam Brooke, stiff as a soldier on parade, stared up
at her. Some fiery stimulus might have run over her
nerves, she looked so incredulous of the words, so moved
in her welcome of them, so altogether gay.

" Isabel," said she, " will you oblige me by ringing that
bell and calling Peter? "

" What do you want of Peter? " asked his wife. " He
doesn't know. At least I suppose he doesn't. It evi-
dently happened a long time ago, before Peter'd even met
us. Anybody named Samuel who died, you understand.
He called you Ellen."

" Isabel," said Madam Brooke, making an upward
move to leave her chair, " will you send for Peter or shall

' I'll call him myself, dear," said Isabel.

She left the room and was back presently with Peter,



to whom she had confided that mother was very much ex-

He found her so, but his eyes told him the excitement
was rejuvenating and delightful.

"Now," said Madam Brooke to her daughter, coinci-
dent with the little triumphant nod she had given Peter,
as if to bid him take note how indubitably she had come
out on top, " now Isabel, what was it you had to say? '

" Why," returned Isabel, " it may be nothing you know
anything about, only I was interested in it because
well, you know I'm interested. I just asked you, who was
Samuel? "

Peter gave a little involuntary sound and Madam
Brooke shook her head at him.

" Be quiet, Peter," she adjured him. " Go ahead, Isa-
bel. I know all about Samuel. What have you got to
tell me? "

" It's simply queer," said Isabel. She consulted a paper
in her hand. " It's very much like nonsense, and I had
Miss Bixby write it off so I should be sure to get it right.
It's something about a spotted cow."

" Yes," said Madam Brooke, " a spotted cow. What
else? "

She would not look at Peter. He was making more
sounds and suppressing them with difficulty, so that his
wife looked at him now and asked sympathetically:

" Have you taken a cold, dear? J

" The spotted cow," insisted Madam Brooke, tapping
impatient fingers on the stand. " What else? '

Isabel consulted her paper.

" You and Samuel," said she, and paused to look up in-
terrogatively " I don't know who Samuel was you
chased her and tried to put a wreath of daisies round her
horns. There! I can't make anything of it, but that's
the way it came."


At this point Peter Harvey took a gold pencil from
his pocket and laid it in Madam Brooke's extended

" I suppose," said the old lady, in an ecstasy of delight
her daughter could not fail to see, " I suppose it came
through in the usual way? '

" Yes/' said Isabel deprecatingly.

She was a sweet person who, in spite of the late change
in her, still shrank from strife. But her mother pursued
her catechism, now evoking the hated name.

"Through Miss Bixby? "

" Yes/' said Isabel faintly and Harvey was moved, as
he always had to be when the tide set against his wife, to
save her actual mischance.

" There, Mother Brooke," said he, under his breath,
" it's funny. It's tremendously funny, but there ! '

" You needn't ( there ' me! " said the old lady, abating
none of her delight. " You can't stop me by any of your
there-ing. Isabel, I sha'n't tell you who Samuel is. Or
rather I sha'n't tell you now; but I give you my word
this is a perfectly grand message."

" Is it authentic? " asked Isabel, in a fearful delight
of her own, incredulous of anything so marvelous as that
her mother should consider evidence. " Does it prove
anything? '

" It proves a good deal," said the old lady, still in high
feather. "Authentic? Well, in a sense it is. You let
me think it over, Isabel, and I'll tell you all about it."

The chances were that Harvey, in his compassion for
his wife's perplexity, would have put forth some sort of
immediate explanation, but at that moment Susanne ap-
peared with the announcement that Miss Dove was be-
low, to see Mr. and Mrs. Harvey.

" Of course," said Isabel at once, diverted to a more


feasible hope. " Ask her to come up." And in the two or
three minutes before Andrea appeared they did not, for
varying reasons, recur to Samuel again.

When Andrea came in, they were, in their several ways,
shocked, almost to the point of outcry, by her look. She
was haggard. Her youth had gone, unless indeed what
she had kept was the look of youth that has suffered phys-
ical mischance. Isabel hurried to meet her and took her
hands and Peter, following, found himself uttering " Poor
child ! " a repetition not intended to be heard, but only
for the relieving of his kindly heart. They led her to the
fireplace where Madam Brooke, having put her triumph
and her pencil by, regarded her with a concern Andrea
was grateful for, and brought her a chair so that they
formed a little group there before the old lady. The girl's
face quivered pathetically as she glanced again at the
faces that seemed to promise such kindness of heart. For
the first time in the week she had not seen them she began
to feel warmth in her veins. She began abruptly.

" It's no use. My father won't do it. He can't."

She stopped there and Harvey prompted her.

" He isn't ready to see me again? '

She shook her head.

" Or," he went on gently but inexorably, for though
his heart was softness itself he could not yet abandon the
business man's obstinate acumen in dealing with business
usages, " he won't let me bring somebody to him one
man even, who knows more about these things than I
do, to tell me where we stand, so I can start the ball roll-
ing if I can."

Again she shook her head.

" He can't," she protested. " He simply can't."

" Well," said Harvey patiently, " now why can't he?
what's your opinion? Is it that " he put it quite cas-


ually not to affront her - " is it that there's nothing
there? "

But instead of breaking into the passionate avowal he
expected, she looked at him mournfully and said, as if
she had repeated the same thing over and over to herself
until she was tired of the sound of it:

"I've given up thinking of that. What I'm thinking of
now is father himself. I'm afraid something will happen
to him. I'm afraid he'll kill himself."

" Peter ! " cried Isabel, and he knew what it meant.
It stood for a whole page of expostulation and entreaty.
If money would save a man from the despair of threat-
ening to end his life, if money would save this girl from
the terror of listening to such threats, the money must be
forthcoming. But Peter Harvey was not so readily con-
vinced. He did not over-prize his money, but he felt it
was an important ministrant of life, and he liked recog-
nised ways of giving it. He meant to add to the world's
soundness, not its folly.

" Tell us," he said to Andrea, " precisely what your
father says."

She began and told him with a perfect clarity how he
had threatened, as a last resort, to quit work at this end
of the line he believed to exist between the earth and
something outside its atmosphere and, leaving her here,
to take himself elsewhere. She told him of the message
locked in the drawer of the desk which Peter Harvey alone
was to open, and she took from her purse the key of the
drawer and a key to the house and gave them to him.
Her father, she said, on this day, which had been one of
unusual violence of despair, had ordered her to bring the
keys and make this explanation, because there was no
knowing how soon the keys would be needed, and when
that time came she would be at her station in his labor-


atory waiting for the message he was sure to send. Har-
vey took the keys and sat holding them as if, though he
was tempted to repudiate the argument they implied, he
could not pain her by refusal. Then, to give her the com-
fort of at least a temporary acceptance, he got up and
dropped them in the table drawer.

" The amount of it is," he began, and then stopped.
[What he had been about to add was: " The man's dotty."

But Madam Brooke said it for him in another form.
She was an exceedingly gentle old lady when actual mis-
ery appealed to her.

" Miss Dove," said she, " I'm afraid your father has
been working too hard. You find that, I dare say. He's
not himself, and it worries you."

Andrea met this with a wholesale assent.

" Oh, he's not at all himself. Or rather he's been like
this for a long time, nervous, excitable, not eating or
sleeping. Only now it's worse. It's so bad that I don't
see " she hesitated and her pale face became even more
haggard " I don't see," she ended, " how we can go on."

They understood that this covered the terrified belief
she could put in no more explicit terms; she did not see
how her father could go on without breaking in some tragic

1 He talks about it all the time," she said. " This week
has been especially bad. I get so well, I do get fright-
ened," she added, with a little smile appealing to them
for tolerance of her inadequacy. " You see, I'm afraid
he'll do something terrible to himself."

" Of course you're frightened," said Harvey. " Any-
body would be. He must see a doctor. There's not the
slightest doubt about that."

1 And go away from there," said Isabel, the vision of
the desolate room rising up before her. " My dear, why
won't you let us "


" Oh, no, no," said Andrea, terrified now from another
angle of circumstance. It was appalling to her that
strange hands should perhaps constrain him, unfamiliar
voices, however kind, counsel him in conventional ways
of getting well. " He wouldn't live a minute, if you took
him away from his work."

" Well," said Harvey, " then try to make him ease up.
If he's under a strain getting any sort of demonstration
ready for the test I proposed to him, tell him that's off.
I sha'n't think of it again and he mustn't. When he's
good and ready he can call on me again."

Andrea's courage, the small wave of it she was conscious
of that morning, receded and left her breathless on the
sandy beach of her despair. She had the distraught feel-
ing of the expert who knows every wheel and bolt and nut
of a racked mechanism and sees ignorant hands about to
meddle with it, whereas if the hands would only lend her
the tools and guarantee her silence and leisure, she could
put it in order herself. She had gone a long distance
since she had seen them last. Now her one thought was
money, the angelic ministrant which, though it might not
advance her father on his distracted way, would at least
save his poor mind. And before she knew it she was en-
treating them.

' Oh," she said, " you wouldn't say these things, if you
knew. You'd do things. You'd do the only thing that
would save him."

Harvey was about to assure her he would do whatever
she counselled, in her emergency, for the case had passed
far beyond any consideration of supernatural agencies;
but the flood of her desperation was unloosed and she
went on, not heeding.

You don't know," she was proclaiming excitedly,
" you don't know. I am your son's " here her father's


reproach came upon her like a whirlwind and blew her
into that no man's land where the lie reigns in a sinister
kingdom of its own and she concluded, " I am your
son's wife."

And, having said it, she was calm. She had made her
wild leap into the chaos of that country and her love and
her despair combined into a tenacity of purpose to hold
her place there. The effect of her declaration was not
startling at all. The words were followed by a complete
silence, except for a slight rustle when Madam Brooke
turned in her chair to face them more exactly. Andrea
looked from one to the other and they were, she saw, com-

" You don't believe me," she cried, undaunted now in
the fury of the warfare she was waging for her father's
easement. " I knew your son. I married him. And
for his sake for his sake '

Her voice sounded strangely in her ears and she rose
and grasped the chair back to sustain herself. Suddenly,
by a sheer effort of will, she knew she had got hold of
herself, and at the same moment she saw, with a wild
triumph, that she had got hold of them. They might not
believe her, but they did see that something of a grave
import was in her words and must be met. And giving
herself no time for reaction to the ordinary intercourse
of life, she poured out her story, not as she had told it to
her father but in a swift eloquence that never halted for
a word. And when she paused, Madam Brooke spoke in
a curt commentary:

" Just like him."

" Just like him, mother? " Isabel found voice to say.
" Just like Philip to make a secret marriage and say noth-
ing about it to me? '

Even at that moment, Peter, with his mind bent on


Andrea's testimony, had time for a little rueful commen-
tary that the mother in her took no cognisance of any
allegiance save to her.

" You say," he began, addressing Andrea, " you met by

" Yes," she answered steadily. " There was something
the matter with his plane and he came down in the field
where I was walking."

" That was the first time? "

" Yes."

" How many times did you see him in all? "

" Six."

She was answering concisely, for she had leaped at that
first lesson of the liar, that plausibility is chiefly a mat-
ter of quick wit. And suddenly she trusted her wits im-

" On which occasion," he asked, " were you married? "

" The last."

" You had a license, of course? "

" Yes."

" Where is it? "

" He gave it to me to keep."

Yes, but where is it, my husband asked you," Isabel
echoed sharply.

' It was burned," said Andrea, " when my father's
house was burned."

' I am lost," she was telling herself inwardly, without
any particular sorrow for it. " Probably I was lost from
the beginning or I couldn't say these things. I couldn't
think of them."

1 Did you go with him to get the license? " Harvey was
" No."
' I have an idea it's necessary."


" I believe it was necessary. But he arranged it."

" Yes." muttered Madam Brooke. " He could arrange
it if anybody could."

" Were you married in a church? " Peter continued.

" No."

" Where then? "

" In a field."

" Just like him," nodded Madam Brooke. " I could be-
lieve it of him."

" Who married you? '

" A minister who afterward went to France."

" What was his name? '

" Barry."

" She could have seen that in the newspapers," said

Her tone had chilled to ice.

"What became of him?' 1 asked Peter, laying a hand
on his wife's arm.

" He was killed."

" She could have learned that from the newspap 3rs,"
said Isabel stonily.

" What was the date of your marriage? " asked Peter.

She was ready for that also. Time had meant little to
her of late, her days slipped so monotonously by ; but one
date, the day she saw her lover, was burnt into her by
many fires.

" August tenth," she answered, " 1917."

" The day before he sailed," said Isabel. " Two
months before he was killed."

" Why do you suppose," Harvey was asking her
graVely, " Philip didn't speak of this to us? "
You didn't know me," she said readily.

" Why hadn't he made you known to us? '
' There wasn't time. There was no time for anything


" Why shouldn't he have written us," said Harvey,
gravely persuasive now, as if he begged her also to weigh
these problems with him. " Do you think he didn't con-
sider the possibility of not coming back? Why didn't he
write me and ask me to look out for the girl he '

There he stopped. In his heart, so implicit was his
faith, he did believe her, but he hated the disorderly
method of it all. He wished his son had played the man.

" He thought," said Andrea, " he would come back."

" Did your father know him? J

" No."

" In those six times of his coming you didn't take him
to your house to see your father? '

" No."

" Why not? "

" My father," said Andrea, trembling now, for she felt
she was being carried with an alarming rapidity out to a
rougher sea, " was worried about his own affairs. I
couldn't have told him a thing like that. It would have
been n ruel."

" Why? "

1 He would have thought I had another interest. He'd
have thought he'd lose me. Why, I've kept my father
alive. When he's worked eighteen hours at a stretch,
I've kept him going by just holding him up in my hands.
You don't know what my father is to me."

You speak of him," said Isabel bitterly, " with more
affection than you seem to feel toward my son."

You don't want me to speak to you of your son," said
Andrea. What little light remained in her face faded out
and left it gray. " Besides, I must conquer that. I must
stop thinking of him or ' Here she paused and got
hold of herself by an effort. " But my father is alive."

" What do you want of us? " asked Isabel, in a voice


keyed to such a strident pitch that her husband, in a
warning undertone, spoke her name. But she continued,
" Money? "

" Yes," said Andrea desperately. " You said," she con-
tinued, turning to Harvey, " it was strange your son had
not provided for me '

"Philip," he corrected her. "Why don't you say
Philip? "

She bowed slightly in sign of accepting the correction,
and continued:

" I don't ask you to provide for me. I couldn't take it
if you offered it. But I ask you, because your son ' ;

" Philip," he insisted, watching her.

And then she did cry out, as if she were beside herself:

" Why do you want to drive me crazy? '

" I don't," he said. " Go on. Say what you were going
to say."

" I ask you, because your son married me, to give my
father the money you would be willing to give me."

" It's only another way of putting it," said Isabel.

" I have made your father," said Harvey, " a fair offer."

" Yes," she said, " to bring in three men, cut and dried
professors, wet blankets '

" They won't put out the fire if the fire's there," said
Harvey quietly. " But we needn't discuss that. As-
suredly I'll provide for you, at least while we're learning
more about all this."

It had been too incredibly easy. The surprise of it
swept her off her feet. The pity of it did not strike her
then that it was out of the man's great goodness of heart
she had been able to persuade him. But before she could,
in her new craft, determine what words it would be wise
to use in gratitude or whether she should let herself go in
the overwhelming relief she felt, Susanne turned the cur-


rent of their thoughts. She rushed in, herself a-twitter
with her news, every canon of the serving maid's trade

" He's come/' she cried, and kept on saying it. " He's
come! he's cornel '

" Who's come? " inquired Isabel, profoundly shocked
by this reversal of tradition.

11 Why," said Madam Brooke composedly, though with
a thrill in her voice, " Brooke, of course."


A VOICE had followed Susanne into the room, a man's
voice, young, full of excited laughter:

' Susanne, shut up. Is that any way '

The four people in the room, silenced by the interrup-
tion three of them understood at once, turned to the door.
Madam Brooke had, at the first syllable, risen and stood
erect, exultant in the consciousness that, although this was
scarcely less moving than a return from the dead, she was
not bowled over by it. And then he was in the room,
making for his mother with a couple of strides and Su-
sanne, secure of nobody's notice, indulged herself in an
unrestrained cry of laughter and ran out to tell the news
below. Andrea, at the sound of the voice, stiffened and
stood staring, and when Brooke actually entered the room
she collapsed into a chair, saying to nobody in particular:

" I'm dying."

But nobody heard her except Madam Brooke and she
paid no attention, reasoning, if her lightning processes
could be called reason, that fainting girls must be sacri-
ficed to giving Brooke his adequate welcome. Even then
she wasn't sure it would be possible, Isabel was so be-
fuddled by Andrea's staggering disclosure. She could
imagine her passing it over to Brooke at once, possibly
with marginal notes of the psychic communications she
had been reserving for him. But Isabel was sufficiently
moved by the presence of her son to satisfy the most
exacting standard. Brooke had passed his father with a



clap on the shoulder, a snatch at his hand and a cry of
"Dad! " that seemed to imply enough to content Har-
vey, who responded with something inarticulate. Brooke
strode on to his mother, enveloped her in khaki, escaped
long enough to give grandmother a kiss on each pink
cheek and her smiling lips and then returned to his mother
for the renewed hug of an impetuous affection. He was
a tall, lithe, brown fellow, with whitest teeth, a deter-
mined chin and laughter forever in his eyes, even when
he thought he felt most pathetic, though this, too, was in
a whimsical, droll way of deprecating such mortal folly.
For he, like Philip who was gone, had a wistful sad streak,
something like the melancholy of the Celt; and yet the
eyes laughed at that also when it came uppermost. He
stood there patting his mother's back, murmuring silly
things to her and laughing, giving her the outspoken af-
fection she would not do without. It was not that Isa-
bel was a tyrannical woman, at least in obvious ways;
but she knew very accurately what expressed measure of
fondness would satisfy her, and the men of her family
were such good fellows they took scrupulous kind care
to give it to her. Andrea opened her eyes and there he
was before her, still clasping his mother and wordlessly
convincing her she was the only mother in the world, the
top notch of motherhood. He was terrible to Andrea in
his beauty, the beauty she remembered and the strength
she exulted in. At once, in a dull way, without any spe-
cial wonder at it, she understood how stupid she had been
to assume there was one son only. The picture fronting

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Online LibraryAlice BrownThe wind between the worlds → online text (page 7 of 17)