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that day and would celebrate by taking them all to
the vaudeville. Mrs. Durland and Ethel gave plausi-


ble excuses for declining, but not without expressing
their appreciation of the invitation in kind terms,
and Grace and her father set off alone.

In her cogitations Grace was convinced that noth-
ing short of a miracle could ever improve materially
the family fortunes. They had the house free of
encumbrance, but it needed re-roofing, and the fur-
nishings were old and dingy. Mrs. Durland had
worked out a budget by which to manage the family
finances, and it was clear enough to Grace that what
she and Ethel earned would just about take care of
the necessary running expenses. Mrs. Durland had
received for many years an income of five hundred
dollars a year from her father's estate, and this Grace
learned had always been spent on the family. The
last payment had been put away, Mrs. Durland ex-
plained to her daughters, to help establish Roy after
he completed his law course. It was impressed upon
Grace constantly that all the hopes of bettering the
family conditions centered in Roy. Ethel shared,
though in less degree, her monther's confidence in the
son of the house. Grace kept silent when Roy's pros-
pects were discussed, feeling that it would serve no
purpose to express her feeling that Roy had no spe-
cial talent for the law, and even if he had the Dur-
lands were without family or business connections
that could possibly assist him in establishing himself.

Grace's meeting with Bob Cummings served to
sharpen her sense of social differentiations. Her
mother had always encouraged the idea that the Dur-
lands were a family of dignity, entitled to the highest
consideration; but stranded as they were in a neigh-


borhood that had no lines of communication with
polite society, Mrs. Durland now rarely received an
invitation even to the houses of her old friends.
Grace's excursions in social science had made her
aware of the existence of such a thing as class con-
sciousness; but she had never questioned that she
belonged to the favored element. The thought as-
sailed her now that as a wage-earning girl she had
a fixed social status from which there was little like-
lihood she would ever escape. The daughters of
prominent families she waited on at Shipley's were
no better looking, no more intelligent and had no
better social instincts than she possessed; but she was
as completely shut off from any contact with them
as though she were the child of a Congo chieftain.
With all her romanticism she failed to picture the son
of one of the first families making her acquaintance
and introducing her to his family as the girl he meant
to marry. Several young men with whom she became
acquainted in Shipley's had asked her to go to dances,
or for Sunday drives. Irene sniffed when Grace re-
ported these overtures.

"Oh, they're nice fellows; but what have they got
to offer? They're never going to get anywhere. You
can't afford to waste your time on them."

However, Grace accepted one of these invitations.
The young man took her to a public dance hall where
the music was good, but the patrons struck her as
altogether uninspiring; and she resented being in-
spected by a police matron. She danced with her
escort all evening, and then they went to a cafeteria
for sandwiches and soda water.

Irene had warned Grace that such young fellows
were likely to prove fresh; that they always expected
to kiss a girl good night, and might even be insulting;


but this particular young man was almost pathetically
deferential. Grace was ashamed of herself for not
inviting him to call, but she shrank from encouraging
his further attentions; he might very easily become a

Again, she went to Rosemary Terrace, a dance
and supper place on the edge of town, in company with
a young man who carried a bottle on his hip to which
he referred with proud complacency, as though it
were the symbol of his freedom as an American
citizen. The large dance hall was crowded; the
patrons were clearly the worse for their indulgence in
the liquor carried by their escorts; the dancing of
many of the visitors was vulgar; the place was hot and
noisy and the air heavy with tobacco smoke. Grace's
young man kept assuring her that the Rosemary was
the sportiest place in town; you didn't see any dead
ones there. His desire to be thought a sport would
have been amusing if he hadn't so strenuously insisted
upon explaining that he was truly of the great com-
pany of the elect to whom the laws of God and man
were as nothing. When Grace asked to be taken
home he hinted that there were other places presum-
ably even less reputable, to which they might go. But
he did not press the matter, when, reaching the Dur-
land gate, he tried to kiss her and she, to mark the
termination of their acquaintance, slapped him.

These experiences were, she reflected, typical of
what she must look forward to unless she compromised
with her conscience and accepted Irene's philosophy
of life.

She had replied immediately to Trenton's letter
from St. Louis with a brief note which she made as
colorless as possible. She knew that it was for her
to decide whether to see more of him or drop the ac-


quaintance. He was not a man to force his atten-
tions upon any young woman if he had reason to
think them unwelcome. Hearing nothing from him
for several days she had decided that he had settled
the matter himself when she received a note explain-
ing that he had been very busy but would start East
the next day. He hoped she would dine with him on
Thursday night and named the Indianapolis hotel
where her reply would reach him.

"Don't turn him down!" exclaimed Irene when
Grace told her Trenton was coming. "He wouldn't
ask you if he didn't want you. Tommy skipped for
New York last night so it's a safe bet that Ward's
stopping on purpose to see you."

"I don't know " began Grace doubtfully.

"Oh, have a heart! There's no harm in eating din-
ner with a married man in a hotel where you'd get by
even if all your family walked in and caught you! Of
course Tommy can't appear with me at any public
place here at home, but it's different with you and
Ward. He doesn't know a dozen people in town."

"I wouldn't want to offend him," Grace replied
slowly, a prey to uncertainty; but she withheld her
acceptance until the morning of the day of Trenton's


When she reached the Hotel Sycamore at seven
o'clock he was waiting for her at the entrance.

"On time to the minute!" he exclaimed. "I took
you at your word that you'd rather not have me call
for you."

"Thanks; but it was easier this way," she answered.

He had been so much in her thoughts, and she had


considered him from so many angles that at first she
was shy in his presence. But by the time they were
seated in the dining room her diffidence was passing.
He appeared younger than at The Shack, but rather
more distinguished; it might have been the effect
of his dinner coat; and she noticed that he was the
only man in the room who had dressed for dinner.

"You've been busy of course and I've been up to
my eyes in work," he said; "so we'll dismiss business.
Shall we talk of the weather or see what we can do
to save the world from destruction!"

"Oh, I've had a lot of ideas about things since
I saw you," she said. "Half of them were right and
half wrong."

"Oh," he exclaimed, "our old friend conscience I"

"Yes," she replied, meeting his gaze squarely. "I've
been trying to decide a thousand questions, but I've
got nowhere!"

"Terrible! But I'm glad to find that you're so
human; most of us are like that. Honest, now, you
weren't at all sure you wanted to see me tonight!"

"No," she assented under his smiling gaze; "I
didn't send the answer to your note till nearly noon!"

"So I noticed from the hotel stamp on the envelope I
But I'd have been very much disappointed if you'd

His tone was too serious for comfort. She felt that
she must have a care lest he discover the attraction he
had for her.

"Oh, you'd have got over it! You know you would.
You needn't have dined alone Tommy's out of town,
but there's Irene ! "

"Much as I admire Irene she would be no substi-
tute! I was sincerely anxious to see you again, if
only to make sure you were still on earth."


"Oh, I have no intention of leaving itl"

She was finding it easy to be flippant with him.
Whatever liking he had for her was no doubt due
to the seriousness she had manifested in their talk
at The Shack. And the effect of that talk had been
to awaken a sympathy and interest on both sides; in
her case she knew that it was trifle more than that.
She was sorry now that she had kissed him; she was
puzzled that she had ever had the courage to do it,
though it was such a kiss as she might have given any
man older than herself in the same circumstances.
She had heard of women, very young women, who were
able to exert a strong influence upon men much older
than themselves. She felt for the first time the power
of sex at least she had never before thought of it in
the phrases that now danced through her brain. If
he was annoyed not to find her as interesting and
agreeable as at The Shack he was successful in con-
cealing his disappointment. He continued to be unfail-
ingly courteous, meeting her rejoinders with character-
istic mockeries until she began to feel ashamed of her
lack f friendliness. He deserved better of her than

"We're going to the theatre; did you know that?"
he asked toward the end of the dinner. "And we're
going to be fashionably late."

" 'Stolen Stars ! ' Oh, that's perfectly marvelous,"
she exclaimed. "I've been just dying to see it!"

"Then it's lucky that you can live and see itl"
Through the performance the thought kept recurring
to her that he meant to be kind. No one had ever
been so kind or shown her so flattering a deference as
Ward Trenton. She was proud to be sitting beside
him. When the lights went up after the first act a buzz
of talk in one of the boxes drew her attention, and she
caught a glimpse of Bob Cummings. At the same


moment he saw her and bowed. There were six in the
party and she decided that Bob's wife was the young
woman he most rarely addressed. Evelyn was not
beautiful; she was gratified to have Trenton's con-
firmation of her opinion on this point when she di-
rected his attention to the box party.

"I'll be here for several days," said Trenton when
they reached the Durland house and he stood for a
moment on the doorstep. "Could you give me another
evening? Tomorrow night I'm tied up with a busi-
ness appointment, but may we say day after to-

"Yes," she assented, "but isn't there danger of see-
ing too much of me?"

"I'll take the risk!" he said. "And thank you ever
so much."

She fell asleep glad that she was to see him again.


THE second evening with Trenton was very like
the first except that after dinner at the Sycamore they
attended a concert given by a world-famous violinist.
Again as under the spell of Bob Cummings' playing
at Miss Reynolds', Grace was caught away into a
wonder-world, where she wandered like a disembodied
spirit seeking some vestige of a personality that had
not survived her transition to another realm. She
was assailed by new and fleeting emotions, in which
she studied Trenton and tried to define her attitude
toward him, conscious that the time might be close
at hand when some definition would be necessary.
Now and then she caught a glimpse of his rapt look
and saw the lines about his mouth tighten. Once he
clasped his hands as though, in response to some inner
prompting, he were attempting by a physical act to
arrest some disturbing trend of his thoughts.

There was a fineness in his face that she had not
before fully appreciated, and it was his fineness and
nobility, Grace assured herself, that appealed to her.
Then there were moments when she was undecided
whether she loved or hated him, not knowing that
this is a curious phase which women of highly sensi-
tive natures often experience at the first conscious-
ness of a man's power over them. She saw man as
the hunter and woman as his prey. Then with a quick
revulsion she freed herself of the thought and drifted
happily with the tide of harmony.

When they left the theatre Trenton asked whether



she felt like walking. The night was clear and the
air keen and stimulating.

"Of course; it would be a shame to ride! That
music would carry me a thousand miles," she an-

As soon as they were free of the crowd he began
to talk of music, its emotional appeal, its power to
dissociate the hearer from material things.

"I never felt it so much before," he said. "I'm
afraid there's not much poetry in me. I'm not much
affected by things that I can't reduce to a formula,
and I'm a little suspicious of anything that lifts me
off the earth as that fiddle did. If I exposed myself
to music very often it would ruin me for business."

"Oh, never that! I feel music tremendously; every-
body must! It wakes up all manner of hopes and
ambitions even if they don't live very long. That
violin really made me want to climb!"

"Yes; I can understand that. For a few minutes
I was conscious myself of reaching up the ladder for
a higher round. It's dangerous to feel so keenly. I
wonder if there ever comes a time when we don't feel
any more really feel a desire to bump against the
stars; when the spirit goes dead and for the rest of
our days we just settle into a rut with no hope
of ever pulling out? I have a dread of that. It's
ghastly to think of. Marking time! Going through
the motions of being alive when you're really dead!"

"Oh, don't even think of it! You could never be
like that!"

"Maybe I'm like that now!"

"You're clear off the key!" she cried. "Of course
you're not at the end of things. It's wicked to talk
that way."

"Do you really think that?" he asked eagerly. "Do
you see any hope ahead for me?"


"You know you see it yourself! We wouldn't
any of us go on living if we didn't see some hope
ahead." Then with greater animation she added:

"You're not a man to sit down at the roadside and
burst into tears because things don't go to suit you!
I don't believe you're that kind at all. If you are
well, I'm disappointed!"

"Now you've got me with my back to the wall!"
he laughed. "No man ever wants a woman to think
him a coward. I'll keep away from all music here-
after except the snappiest jazz. But give music the
benefit of the doubt; it may not have been the fiddle
at all!"

"More likely you ate too much dinner!"

"Impossible! The ostrich has nothing on me when
it comes to digestion. Maybe you're the cause of
my depression! Please consider that for a moment!"

"Oh, that's terribly unkind! If I depress you this
must be our last meeting."

"You know I didn't mean that, it's because "

"Don't begin becausing! You know you're in a
tight corner; you hint that I've given you a bad
evening just by sitting beside you at a concert and
a very beautiful concert at that."

"The mistake is mine! You haven't the slightest
respect for my feelings. I show you the wounds in
my very soul and you laugh at them."

"I certainly am not going to weep my eyes out
merely because you let a few bars of music throw
you. I had a fit of the blues too; several times I
thought I was going to cry. How embarrassed you'd
have been!"

"No; I should have held your hand until you re-
gained your composure!"

"Then we'd both have been led out by the ushers!"

He joined with her in playing whimsically upon all


the possibilities of their ejection. They would have
been arrested for disturbing a public gathering and
their names would have figured in the police reports,
probably with pictorial embellishments. This sort
of fooling was safe; she thought perhaps he meant to
maintain the talk on an impersonal plane but in a
moment he said:

"I'm going away tomorrow, first home to Pittsburgh
for about a week; then to New York. I may not
get back here for two or three weeks; I'm mixed up
in some things that I can't neglect. I'd like to think
you'll miss me!"

"Oh, I always miss my friends when they go away,"
she replied. Then realizing the banality of this she
laughed and added: "How silly that sounded!"

"Then you mean you wouldn't miss me?"

"Of course I didn't mean that!"

Under a street lamp she saw in his face once more
the grave troubled look that she had observed at inter-
vals during the concert. It was foolish to question
now that his interest in her was something more than
a passing fancy. Her thoughts flew to the other
woman, the wife of whom he had spoken at The
Shack only to apologize for it in his letter from St.
Louis. He was thinking of her of course; it was im-
possible for him to ignore the fact that he had a wife.
And again as so many times before she speculated
as to whether he might not still love this woman
and be seeking diversion elsewhere out of sheer lone-
liness. But as they passed into the shadows again,
her hand resting lightly on his arm, she experienced
suddenly a strong desire to be kind to him. She was
profoundly moved by the thought that it was in her
power to pour out to him in great measure the affection
and comradeship which he had confessed he hungered


They had crossed the canal bridge and were near-
ing the Durland house. Trenton was accommodating
himself perforce to her rapid pace. The tonic air kept
her pulses throbbing. She was sure that she loved
this man; that the difference in their years was as
nothing weighed against his need for her. Tonight,
she knew, marked a crisis in their relationship. If she
parted from him without making it clear that she
wished never to see him again she would be putting
herself wholly at the mercy of a fate that might bear
her up or down. With only a block more to traverse
she battled with herself, summoned all her courage to
resist him, only to find that her will was unequal to
the contest.

Deep hi her heart she did not want to send him
away with no hope of seeing him again. He was
her one link with the great world beyond the city in
which, without his visits to look forward to, she was
doomed to lead a colorless, monotonous existence.
She was moved by a compassion for him, poignantly
tender, that swept away all sense of reality and tran-
scended the bounds of time and space. The very
thought of losing him, of not knowing where he would
be in the endless tomorrows, only that she would
never see him again, was like a pain hi her heart.
The need in him spoke to the need in her for com-
panionship, help, affection.

They seemed vastly isolated in the quiet street, as
though the world had gone away and left them to
settle their affairs with only the stars for witnesses.
It had been easy to parry Bob Cummings's attempts
to assume a lover-like attitude toward her. But with
Trenton this would be impossible. With him it would
be necessary to state in the plainest terms that their
acquaintance must end.

Nothing had been said since her last remark and


if she meant to thrust him away from her she must
act quickly. In a winning fashion of his own he was
frank and forthright. She found it difficult to antici-
pate him and prepare her replies. There was no leer
in him and he did not take refuge in timid gallantries;
he addressed her as a man who felt that he had a
right to a hearing. And this, in her confused, be-
wildered senses, gave dignity to the situation. He
loved her and she loved him she was sure she loved
him and her heart was in a wild tumult. She was
afraid to speak lest the merest commonplace might
betray her eagerness to confess her love for him.

He stepped in front of her and clasped the hand
that lay lightly on his arm.

"I've got to say it; I must say it now," he said in
grave even tones. "No woman ever meant to me
what you mean. The first night I met you I knew
it had come the thing I had hoped for and some-
times had dreaded, a woman I could know as I've
never known any woman, not my wife or any other!
After I left you I couldn't get you out of my mind."
He paused for an instant, then went on hurriedly with
undisguised intensity of feeling. "You may think me
mad when I've seen you so little; and I know I have
no right to love you at all! But I do love you! I
want you to belong to me ! "

A gust of wind caught up a mass of leaves from the
gutter and flung them about their feet as though
to remind them of the mutability of all things. He
had said that he loved her; almost savagely he had
demanded that she give herself to him. It was in-
credible that he cared so much, that his desire for her
could be so great.

He released her hand as though in sign that he
wanted her to speak without compulsion. He waited


quietly, his shoulders thrown a little forward, and in
the dim starlight she saw his eyes, bright and eager,
searching her own.

"You know I care," she said softly.

The words fell from her lips inevitably; no other
reply was possible, and it seemed that a great weight
had lifted from her heart and that in entrusting her-
self to him she had found security and peace. She
questioned nothing, feeling his arms about her, his
kiss warm on her lips. All her doubts were lost in
the joy of the moment in which he had confessed
his love for her. It was a strange place for the
pledging of love and the moment was not to be pro-

"We must go on, dear," she said laying her cheek
against his for an instant. The touch of her face
caused him to clasp her again.

"Oh, my dearest one!" he cried hoarsely.

As they went on, loitering to delay the moment of
parting, they caught hands like happy children.

"I don't see how you can love me," she said with
the anxiety of new love for confirmations and assur-
ances. "I don't belong to your world."

"There's the strangest thing of all!" he exclaimed.
"We are born into a new world that is all ours. We
have inherited all the kingdoms tonight."

"And the stars up there do they shine just for
us?" she asked, bringing herself closer to him. "And
can we keep everyone else out of our world? I want
it all to be our very own. Oh, it's so sweet, so won-

"It's a miracle beyond any words," he said, "to
know that you care. It's easy for me to love you;
I loved you in that very first hour we spent together.


We don't account for things like that, that come so
suddenly and without warning; we merely accept
them. I've fought this; I want you to know that I've
fought it."

"Oh, so have I! But why did you fight it?"

Her voice betrayed her confused emotions. Her
sense of right was as nothing against the belief that
he loved her and that she loved him. A masterful tide
had caught them up and borne them far, leaving them
islanded on territory remote and touched with a mysti-
cal light that souls had never known before.

She was now fully persuaded that henceforth her
life was to be bound up with his; that until death
took one or the other they would never face separa-
tion. Space and distance were as nothing; if he
went to far and waste places there would be still
the strong spiritual tie which it pleased her to think
was the real bond between them something which,
in her absolute surrender, she felt to be above all laws
of men and of kinship with heavenly things. It struck
her as odd that she was able so thoroughly to analyze
her sensations, seeking and finding explanation and
justification cleansed of all passion.

"I know I have no right to your love; none what-
ever," he said steadily. "There are people who would
call me a scoundrel for saying what I have just said
to you. But every man in my plight feels that his
case is different. I've thought of all this in the plain-
est terms, not sparing myself."

"It would be like you to do that," she replied.

Now that she had taken him for her lover she
saw him as a paragon of generosity and nobility. He
would not spare himself; she was anxious to apply
balm to his conscience, to make him understand that
her happiness was so complete that nothing else mat-


"Just so yeu love me!" she said gently. "Nothing
could be so dear as just knowing that you care. Oh,
do I mean so much to you?"

"Everything," he exclaimed and lifted her hand and

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 11 of 27)