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do say so; you may always be perfectly frank with

"Yes; thank you, Miss Reynolds. But I'd love
to hear Bob play."

When they were again in the living room Grace
stood for a moment scanning a table covered with
periodicals and new books.

"Since I came home I've been trying to find out
what's going on in America, so I read everything,"
Miss Reynolds explained. "The general opinion
seems to be that things are going to pot. Right under
your hand there's a book called 'Clues to a New
Social Order,' written by a woman named Trenton.
I understand she's a respectable person and not a
short-haired lunatic; but she throws everything over-

"I've read it," said Grace. "It's certainly revolu-

"All of that!" Miss Reynolds retorted. "But it
does make you think ! Everybody's restless and crazy
for excitement. My young married neighbors all be-
long to families I know or know about; live in very
charming houses and have money to spend too much
most of them and they don't seem able to stand an
evening at home by themselves. But maybe the new
way's better. Maybe their chances of happiness are
greater where they mix around more. I'm curious
about the whole business. These young folks don't
go to church. Why don't they, when their fathers
and grandfathers always did? Their parents stayed
at home in the evening. My father used to grumble
horribly when my mother tried to get him into a dress


suit. But there was wickedness then too, only people
just whispered about it and tried to keep it from the
young folks. There were men right here in this town
who sat up very proper in the churches on Sunday
who didn't hesitate to break all the commandments
during the week. But now you might think people
were sending up fireworks to call attention to their
sins! I remember the first time I went to a dinner
that was thirty years ago where cocktails were
passed around. It seemed awful the very end of
the world. When I told my mother about it she was
horrified; said what she thought of the hostess who
had exposed her daughter to temptation! But now
prohibition's driven everybody to drink. I asked my
chauffeur yesterday how long it would take him to
get me a quart of whiskey and he said about half an
hour if I'd let him use the car. I told him to go ahead
and sure enough he was back with it in twenty min-
utes. It was pretty fair whiskey, too," Miss Reynolds
concluded. "I was curious to see just how it felt to
break the law and I confess to you, my dear, that I
experienced a feeling of exultation!"

She reached for a fresh cigarette and lighted it

"Everybody's down on the young people," said
Grace, confident that she had a sympathetic listener.
"They tell us all the time that we're of no account."

"There are pages of that on that table," Miss Rey-
nolds replied. "Well, I'm for the young people; par-
ticularly you girls who have to rustle for yourselves.
If I stood up in a store all day or hammered a type-
writer I'm sure I'd feel that I was entitled to some
pleasure when I got through. Just what do girls do
I don't mean girls of your upbringing exactly and your


schooling, but less lucky girls who manage their own
affairs and are not responsible to any one."

"I haven't been at work long enough to know much
about that," said Grace; "but nearly every girl who's
at -all attractive has a beau!"

"Certainly!" Miss Reynolds affirmed promptly.
"It's always been so. There's nothing new in that."

"And they go to dances. Every girl likes to dance.
And sometimes they're taken out to dinner or to a
show if the young man can afford it. Girls don't have
parties at home very much; I mean even where they
live at home. There's not room to dance usually; the
houses are too small and it isn't much fun. And if
the beau has a car he takes the girl driving."

"And these girls marry and have homes of their
own? That still happens, doesn't it?"

"Well, a good many girls don't want to marry,
not the young men they're likely to meet. Or if they
do, some of them keep on working. There are girls
in Shipley's who are married and keep their jobs.
They like the additional money; they can wear better
clothes, and they like to keep their independence."

"There you are!" Miss Reynolds exclaimed. "The
old stuff about woman's place being in the home isn't
the final answer any more. If you won't think it im-
pertinent just how do you feel on that point, Grace?"

"Oh, I shouldn't want to marry for a long, long
time! even if I had the chance," Grace answered
with the candor Miss Reynolds invited. "I've got that
idea about freedom and independence myself! I hope
I'm not shocking you!"

"Quite the contrary. I had chances to marry my-
self," Miss Reynolds confessed. "I almost did marry
when I was twenty-two but decided I didn't love the
young man enough. I had these ideas of freedom


too, you see. I haven't really been very sorry; I sup-
pose I ought to be ashamed of myself. But the man
I almost married died miserably, an awful failure.
I have nothing to regret. How about college girls
you must know a good many?"

"Oh, a good many co-eds marry as soon as they
graduate, and settle down. But those I've known are
mostly country town girls. I think it's different with
city girls who have to go to work. They're not so
anxious to get married."

"The fact seems to be that marriage isn't just the
chief goal of a woman's life any more. Things have
reached such a pass that it's really respectable to be a
spinster like me! But we all like to be loved we
women, don't we? And it's woman's blessing and her
curse that she has love to givel"

She was silent a moment, then bent forward and
touched Grace's hand. There was a mist of dreams
in the girl's lovely eyes.

"I wish every happiness for you, dear. I hope with
all my heart that love will come to you in a great way,
which is the only way that counts!"


A moment later Bob Cummings appeared and
greeted Grace with unfeigned surprise and pleasure.

"I'll say we don't need to be introduced! Grace
and I are old friends," he said, still unable to conceal
his mystification at finding Grace established on terms
of intimacy in his neighbor's house.

"I inveigled Grace here without telling her it was to
be a musical evening," said Miss Reynolds.

"Oh, I'd have come just the same!" laughed Grace.

"We'll cut the music now," said Cummings. "It


will be a lot more fun to talk. I tell you, Grace, it's
a joy to have a place of refuge like this! Miss Rey-
nolds is the kindest woman in the world. I've adopted
her as my aunt."

He bowed to Miss Reynolds, and glanced from one
to the other with boyish eagerness for their approval.

"That's the first I've heard of it," Miss Reynolds
retorted with a grieved air. "Why don't you tell him,
Grace, that being an aunt sounds too old. You might
both adopt me as a cousin 1"

Grace and Bob discussed the matter with mock
gravity and decided that there was no good reason
why they shouldn't be her cousin.

"Then you must call me Cousin Beulahl" said Miss
Reynolds. Her nephews and nieces were widely scat-
tered she said, and she didn't care for her lawful

Grace talked much more freely under the stimulus
of Bob's presence. It appeared that Miss Reynolds
had not known Bob until she moved into the neigh-
borhood and their acquaintance had begun quite ro-
mantically. Miss Reynolds had stopped him as he
was passing her house shortly after she moved in and
asked him whether he knew anything about trees.
Some of the trees on her premises were preyed upofl
by malevolent insects and quite characteristically she
had halted him to ask whether he could recommend
a good tree doctor.

"You looked intelligent; so I took a chance," Miss
Reynolds explained. "And the man you recom-
mended didn't hurt the trees much only two died.
I've bought a tree book and hereafter I'll do my own

When Miss Reynolds spoke of Mrs. Cummings she
referred to her as Evelyn, explaining to Grace that


she was the daughter of an old friend. Evelyn, it
appeared, was arranging a Thanksgiving party for one
of the country clubs. Bob said she was giving a lot
of time to it; it was going to be a brilliant affair.
Then finding that Grace did not know Evelyn and
remembering that in all likelihood her guest wouldn't
be invited to the entertainment, Miss Reynolds turned
the talk into other channels. It was evident that Bob
was a welcome visitor to Miss Reynolds's house and
that she understood and humored him and indulged
and encouraged his chaffing attitude toward her. That
he should make a practice of escaping from a com-
pany at home that did not interest him was just like
Bob! He was lucky to have a neighbor so understand-
ing and amiable as Miss Reynolds. Perhaps again and
often she would meet Bob at Miss Reynolds's when he
found Evelyn irksome. Grace rose and changed her
seat, as though by so doing she were escaping from
an idea she felt to be base, an affront to Miss Rey-
nolds, an insult to Bob.

"The piano's waiting, Botf'; and Miss Reynolds led
the way to the music room across the hall.

Bob began, as had always been his way, Grace re-
membered, by improvising, weaving together snatches
of classical compositions, with whimsical variations.
Then, after a pause, he sat erect, struck into Schu-
mann's Nachtstuck, and followed it with Handel's
Largo and Rubenstein's Melody in F, all associated
in her memory with the days of their boy-and-girl
companionship. He shook his head impatiently, waited
a moment and then a new mood laying hold of him he
had recourse to Chopin, and played a succession of
pieces that filled the room with color and light. Grace
watched the sure touch of his hands, marveling that he
had been so faithful to the music that was his passion


as a boy. It had always been his solace in the un-
happy hours to which he had been a prey as far back
as she could remember. There was no questioning his
joy in the great harmonies. He was endowed with a
talent that had been cultivated with devotion, and he
might have had a brilliant career if fate had not
swept him into a business for which his temperament
wholly unfitted him.

While he was still playing Miss Reynolds was called
away by callers and left the room quietly.

"You and Bob stay here," she whispered to Grace.
"These are people I have to see."

When Bob ended with a Chopin valse, graceful
and capricious, that seemed to Grace to bring the joy
of spring into the room, he swung round, noted Miss
Reynolds's absence and then the closed door.

"My audience reduced one-half!" he exclaimed
ruefully. "At this rate I'll soon be alone."

"Don't stop! Those last things were marvelous!"

"Just one more ! Do you remember how I cornered
you one day in our old house you were still wearing
pigtails and told you I'd learned a new piece and
you sat like a dear angel while I played this my first
show piece?"

It was Mendelssohn's Spring Song, and she thrilled
to think that he hadn't forgotten. The familiar chords
brought back vividly the old times; he had been so
proud and happy that day in displaying his prowess.

Her praise was sweet to him then, and she saw that
it was grateful to him now.

"You play wonderfully, Bob; it's a pity you couldn't
have kept on!"

"We can't do as we please in this world," he said,
throwing himself into a chair and reaching for the
cigarettes. "But I get a lot of fun out of my music.


"I'm not sorry I stuck to it as I did from the time I
could stretch an octave. Are you spending the night
with Miss Reynolds?"

"No; we're not quite that chummy. Miss Reynolds
said she'd send me home."

"Not on your life she won't! I'm going to run you
out in my roadster. That's settled. I don't have to
show up at home till midnight, so there's plenty of
time. You and Cousin Beulah seem to get on

Grace gave a vivacious account of the beginning of
her acquaintance with Miss Reynolds, not omitting
the ten dollar tip.

He laughed; then frowned darkly.

"I've been troubled about this thing ever since I
met you today," he said doggedly; "your having to
quit college, I mean. I feel guilty, terribly guilty."

"Please, Bob! don't spoil my nice evening by men-
tioning those things again. I know it wasn't your
fault. So let's go on being friends just as though
nothing had happened."

"Of course. But it's rotten just the same. You
can hardly see me without "

She raised her hand warningly.

"Bob, I'd be ashamed if anything could spoil our
friendship. I'm perfectly satisfied that you had noth-
ing to do with father's troubles. So please forget it."

She won him back to good nature she had always
been able to do that and they talked of old times, of
the companions of their youth in the park neighbor-
hood. This was safe ground. The fact that they were
harking back to their childhood and youth emphasized
the changed circumstances of both the Durlands and
the Cummingses. It didn't seem possible that he was
married; it struck her suddenly that he didn't appear


at all married; and with this came the reflection that
he was the kind of man who should never marry. He
should have kept himself free; he had too much
temperament for a harmonious married life.

"You don't know Evelyn," he remarked a little
absently. And then as though Grace's not knowing
Evelyn called for an explanation he added: "She was
away at school for a long time."

"What's she like, Bob?" Grace asked. "A man
ought to be able to draw a wonderful picture of his

"He should indeed! Let me see. She's fair; blue
eyes; tall, slender; likes to have something doing;
wins golf cups; a splendid dancer. . . . Oh,
pshaw! You wouldn't get any idea from that!" he
said with an uneasy laugh. "She's very popular; peo-
ple like her tremendously."

"I'm sure she's lovely, Bob. Is she musical?"

"Oh, she doesn't care much for music; my practic-
ing bores her. She used to sing a little but she's given
it up."

He hadn't said that he hoped she might meet
Evelyn; and for a moment Grace resented this. She
was a saleswoman in a department store and Evelyn
had no time for an old friend of her husband who
sold ready-to-wear clothing. A snob, no doubt, self-
centered and selfish; Bob's failure to suggest a meeting
with his wife made it clear that he realized 1 the
futility of trying to bring them together.

"You haven't missed me a bit!" cried Miss Rey-
nolds appearing suddenly. "Is the music all over?"

"Oh, we've been reminiscing," said Grace. "And
you missed the best of Bob's playing."

"I'm sorry those people chose tonight for their call.
It was Judge Sanders, my lawyer, and his wife, old


friends but I didn't dare smoke before them!
You've got to stay now while I have a cigarette."

When Grace said presently that she must go and
Miss Reynolds reached for the bell to ring for her car,
Bob stayed her hand.

"That's all fixed! I'll run around and bring my
car and I'll take Grace home. Please say you don't

"Of course, I don't mind; but you needn't think
you're establishing a precedent. The next time Grace
comes I'll lock the door against you and all the rest
of the world!"

While Bob went for his car Miss Reynolds warned
Grace that she was likely to ask her to the house again.

"You'll be doing me a favor by coming, dear. And
remember, if there's ever anything I can do for you
you're to tell me. That's a promise. I should be
sorry if you didn't feel that you could come to me with


"It's only a little after ten," said Bob as he started
the car, "and I'm going to touch the edge of the coun-
try before I take you home. Is that all right? How
long's it been since we went driving together?"

"Centuries! It was just after you moved."

"I was afraid you'd forgotten. I remember the eve-
ning perfectly. We stopped at the Country Club to
dance and just played around by ourselves. But we
did have a good time 1 "

His spirits were soaring; through his talk ran an
undercurrent of mischievous delight in his freedom.
"It's just bully to see you again!" he repeated several
times. "While I was playing I kept thinking of the


royal fun we used to have. Do you remember that day
our families had a picnic we were just kids then
and you and I wandered away and got lost looking
for wild flowers or whatever the excuse was; and a
big storm came up and our mothers gave us a good
raking when we came back all soaked and everybody
was scared for fear we'd tumbled into the river!"

To Grace the remembrance of this adventure was
not nearly so thrilling as the fact that Bob, now mar-
ried, still chortled over the recollection and was obvi-
ously delighted to be spending an evening with her
while his wife enjoyed herself in her own fashion at
home. He would probably not tell Evelyn that he had
taken the daughter of his father's old business asso-
ciate driving, a girl who clerked in a department store
and was clearly out of his social orbit. Here was an-
other episode which Grace knew she dared not mention
at home; Ethel and her mother would be horrified.
But Grace was happy in the thought that Bob Cum-
mings still found pleasure in her company even if she
was Number Eighteen at Shipley's and took and ac-
cepted tips from kindly-disposed customers. He
halted the car at a point which afforded a broad sweep
of moonlit field and woodland.

"You know, Grace, sometimes I've been hungry
and positively homesick for a talk with you such as
we've had tonight."

"Please drive on! You mustn't say things like

"Well, that's the way I feel anyhow. It's queer
how I haven't been able to do anything I wanted to
with my life. I'm like a man who's been pushed on a
train he didn't want to take and can't get off."

Here again was his old eager appeal for sympathy.
He was weak, she knew, with the weakness that is a


defect of such natures. It would be perfectly easy
to begin a flirtation with him, possibly to see him
frequently in some such way as she saw him now. It
was wrong to encourage him, but her curiosity as to
how far he would go overcame her scruples; it would
do no harm to lead him on a little.

"You ought to be very happy, Bob. You have
everything to make you happy!"

"I've made mistakes all down the line," he an-
swered with a flare of defiance. "I ought to have
stood out against father when he put me into the
business. I'm no good at it. But Merwin made a
mess of things; father's got him on a ranch out in
Montana now, and Tom's got the bug to be a doctor
and nothing can shake him. So I have to sit at a desk
every day doing things I hate and doing them badly
of course. And for the rest of it !"

He stopped short of the rest of it, which Grace
surmised was his marriage to Evelyn. It was his
own fault that he had failed to control and manage
his life. He might have resisted his father when
it came to going into business and certainly it spoke
for a feeble will if he had married to gratify his
mother's social ambitions. She was about to bid him
drive on when he turned toward her saying:

"I feel nearer to you, Grace, than to anybody else
in the world ! It was always that way. It's got hold
of me again tonight that feeling I used to have that
no matter what happened you'd know, you'd under-

"Those days are gone, Bob," she said, allowing a
vague wistfulness to creep into her tone. "I mustn't
see you any more. We've both got our lives to live.
You know that as well as I do. You're just a little
down tonight; you always had moods like this when


you thought the world was against you. It's just a
mood and everything will look differently tomorrow."

"But I've got to see you, Grace; not often maybe,
but now and then. There'll be some way of manag-

"No!" she exclaimed, her curiosity fully satisfied as
to how far he would go. "I'll be angry with you in a
minute! This is positively the last time!"

"Please don't say that!" he pleaded. "I wouldn't
offend you for anything in the world, Grace."

"I know you wouldn't, Bob," she said kindly. "But
there are some things that won't do, you know."

"Yes, I know," he conceded with the petulance of
a child reluctantly admitting a fault.

"I'm glad you still like me, but you know per-
fectly well this kind of thing's all wrong. I mustn't
see you again."

"But Grace, what if I just have to see youl"

"Oh, don't be so silly! You'll never just have to.
You've got a wife to tell your troubles to."

She wasn't sure that she wanted to make it im-
possible for him to see her again or that she really
preferred that he tell his troubles to his wife. His
troubles were always largely imaginary, due to his
sensitive and impressionable nature.

"You needn't remind me of that!" he said.

"Oh, start the car! Let's all be cheerful ! We might
as well laugh as cry in this world. Did you see the
game Saturday? I had a suitor turn up from the uni-
versity and we had a jolly time."

"Who was he?" Bob demanded savagely.

"Oh, Bob, you're a perfect scream! Well, you
needn't be jealous of him"

"I'm jealous of every man you know!" he said.

"Now, you're talking like a crazy man! Suppose


I were to tell you I'm jealous of Evelyn! Please re-
member that you forgot all about me and married an-
other girl quite cheerfully with a church wedding and
flowers and everything. You needn't come to me
now for consolation!"

She refused to hear his defense from this charge,
and mocked him by singing snatches of college songs
till they were in town. When they reached the Dur-
land house she told him not to get out.

"I won't tell the family you brought me home;
they wouldn't understand. Thanks ever so much,

Mrs. Durland and Ethel were waiting to hear of her
evening with Miss Reynolds and she told everything
except that she had met Cummings there. She satis-
fied as quickly as possible their curiosity as to Miss
Reynolds and her establishment, and hurried to her
room eager to be alone. She assured herself that she
could never love Bob Cummings, would never have
loved him even if their families had remained neigh-
bors and it had been possible to marry him. He wasn't
her type the phrase pleased her and in trying to de-
termine just what type of man most appealed to her
Trenton loomed large in her speculations. Within a
few weeks she had encountered two concrete instances
of the instability of marriage. Love, it seemed, was
a fleeting thing and loyalty had become a by-word.
Bob was only a spoiled boy, shallow, easily influenced,
yet withal endowed with graces and charms. But
graces and charms were not enough. She brought her-
self to the point of feeling sorry for Evelyn, who prob-
ably refused to humor and pet Bob and was doubtless
grateful that he had music as an outlet for his
emotions. It was something, though, to have found
that he hadn't forgotten; that there were times when


he felt the need of her. She wondered whether he
would take her word as final and make no further
attempt to see her.


Grace addressed herself sincerely to the business
of bringing all the cheer possible to the home circle.
She overcame her annoyance at being obliged to re-
count the details of her work, realizing that her
mother spent her days at home and save for the small
affairs of her club had little touch with the world
beyond her dooryard. Ethel's days in the insurance
office were much alike and she lacked Grace's gift
for making a good story out of a trifling incident.
Even Mr. Durland enjoyed Grace's account of the
whims and foibles of the women she encountered at
Shipley's. Grace reasoned that so long as she lived
at home it would be a mistake not to make the best
of things; but even in her fits of repentance she had
not regretted her assertion of the right to go and come

In the week following she left the house on two
evenings saying merely that she was going out. On
one of these occasions she returned a book to the pub-
lic library; on another she walked aimlessly for an
hour. These unexplained absences were to determine
whether her new won liberty was really firmly estab-
lished. Nothing was said either by her mother or
Ethel, though it was clear that they were mystified by
her early return, though not to the point of asking
where she had been. On a third evening she an-
nounced at the table that she had earned a good bonus

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 10 of 27)