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laughed so boisterously at their success in making
themselves ridiculous that McGovern and his wife
came in to watch them. They had brought themselves
to a high pitch of merriment when McGovern, who
was assisting his wife in clearing the table, darted
across the room and stopped the music.

"Good Lord; it's some one knocking!" cried Bob,
as the outer door shook under a heavy thumping.

"Just keep quiet," said McGovern. "I guess it's
some one who's got into trouble on the road."

"People stop for a little gas to help 'em out some-
times," said Mrs. McGovern. "Mac'll get rid of

McGovern, with his shoulder against the door
threw a look of inquiry at Cummings and Grace.
Cummings lifted his head as the voice again de-
manded admittance.

"Sounds like Atwood, a chap I know," he said to
Grace. "Who's with him, Mac?"

As McGovern opened the door a few grudging
inches a male voice called him by name.


"Let us in, Mac: we're freezing to death!"

"Sorry, but we're closed for the season," McGovern

"That doesn't go, Mac! You can't turn me down,"
replied the voice.

Before McGovern could answer a vigorous pressure
flung the door open and a young man stepped in fol-
lowed by a young woman in a fur coat and smart

"Never thought you'd shut the door in my face,
Mac!" said the young man reproachfully. "We've got
to have some coffee and sandwiches. Hello, Mrs.
Mac: how's everything?"

The young woman, blinking in the light, was walking
toward the fireplace when she became aware that Mc-
Govern and his wife had been entertaining other
guests. She paused and stared, her gaze passing
slowly from Cummings to Grace. Her companion,
finding that McGovern and his wife were receiving
coldly his voluble expressions of regard, now first
caught sight of the two figures across the room.

"Hello-o-o!" he exclaimed. "Look who's here!"

"Why, Jimmie, is that you?" said Cummings with
a gulp.

"I call it some night! And Mac, the old pirate,
didn't want to let me in!"

The McGoverns were hastily retiring toward the
kitchen, Mac tiptoeing as though leaving a death
chamber. The weight of his grievous error was upon
him; never before had he precipitated a wife upon a
husband in so disturbing a fashion.

Grace was watching the young woman, who pulled
a chair away from the table that still bore evidences
of the recent repast and sank into it. She was tall and


slender and the light struck gold in her hair. Feeling
perhaps that Grace's eyes were upon her, she bent and
plucked a raveling, real or imaginary, from the skirt of
her coat. She unbottoned her coat and drew off her
gloves with elaborate care.

Her companion stood with his hands thrust into the
pockets of his overcoat, grinning. An old-fashioned
clock on the mantel began to strike to the accompani-
ment of queer raspings of its mechanism. The hands
indicated the hour as ten but in the manner of its
kind the hammer within pounded out twelve. There
was a suggestion of insolence in the protracted thump-
ing of the bell. As the last torturing sound was dying
Grace turned her head slightly to look at Cummings,
who was staring blankly at the lady in the fur coat.

"What a funny clock!" Atwood remarked with the
jubliant tone of one who has made a discovery of
great value to mankind.

"It's a dreadful liar!" said Grace.

"My grandfather used to have one just like it, with
a basket of fruit painted on the door," said Atwood,
advancing toward Grace, beaming with gratitude for
her response to his attempt to promote conversation.
He was short, plump and blond, with thin fair hair al-
ready menaced by baldness. He was not far advanced
in the twenties and looked very much like an over-
grown school boy. Grace appraised him as a person
of kindly impulses and possibly not wholly without
common sense.

Having planted himself beside Grace he remarked
further upon clocks and their general unreliability,
while he rolled his eyes first toward Cummings and
then in the direction of the lady in the fur coat. Grace
had already assumed without the aid of this telegraphy
that the lady was Bob's wife. Atwood seemed to be


appealing to Grace to assist him in terminating a situ-
ation that was verging upon the intolerable, but she
was unable to see that it was incumbent upon her to
take the initiative. But Mrs. Cummings might sit there
forever unless something happened. Bob continued to
wear the look of one condemned and awaiting the
pleasure of the executioner. Grace felt strongly
moved to walk up to him and shake him. She had
read of such unfortunate meetings between husband
and wife and they were usually attended with furious
denunciations and sometimes with pistols. Without
the sustaining presence of Atwood she would have re-
tired to the domestic end of the McGovern establish-
ment and waited for the storm to blow over, but the
storm, if such impended, was slow in developing.
"This can't last forever," said Grace in a low tone.
" If something doesn't happen in a minute I'm a
dead man," Atwood whispered.

"I think it would be nice if we all got acquainted.
I'm Miss Durland, Mr. Atwood," said Grace in a tone
audible throughout the room.

"Thank you so much! I was just dying to know

your name!" he declared fervidly. "Oh, Evelyn "

Evelyn lifted her head and looked at him defiantly,
but he squared himself and said:

"Mrs. Cummings, Miss Durland. I really supposed
you had met before."

His voice rose to an absurd squeak as he expressed
this last hopeful sentiment.

Evelyn bit her lip and nodded, a nod that might
have been intended for Grace or quite as definitely
for an enlarged photograph of an ancestral whiskered
McGovern in a gilt frame that adorned the wall be-
hind her.

Grace glanced at Bob, still rooted to the floor, and
he remarked with badly-feigned cheerfulness.


"Well, I suppose we might as well go home "
a suggestion not without ambiguity, as there were four
persons in the room and two at least, having just ar-
rived and awaiting refreshments, might be assumed
to prefer to linger.

"Not just yet!" said Grace, walking slowly toward
Evelyn. "There's something I'd like to say to Mrs.

"Oh, really "

"We're going in a minute," interposed Cummings,
with sudden animation. "I think maybe, Grace "

"Grace!" Evelyn repeated scornfully. "I'm going
home. Jimmy, I want you to take me home."

"Yes, Evelyn; of course we'll go whenever you
like," said Atwood. "But, we ought to explain things
a little. I mean you and I ought to explain them," he
elaborated as he saw her lips tighten. "I wouldn't
want Bob to think "

"I don't care what Bob thinks!" she flared. "He
lied to me; he told me he had a business engagement,
to get out of taking me to Uncle Fred's! And this
was the engagement!"

"But everything's going to be explained," Atwood
persisted. "You know there's always an explanation
for everything, and Bob's the best fellow in the world
you know that Evelyn."

"I know nothing of the kind! I'll let him know
at the proper time and place what I think of him."

"Well, of course, Evelyn," said Atwood with his odd
little pipe of a laugh. But he was very earnest; he
brought Cummings to his side by an imperious ges-
ture. As the man for the hour he was not acquitting
himself so badly; he looked at Grace for her approval,
wasn't sure that she gave it, but with his hand resting
on Cummings's shoulder, he spoke directly to the


"I'm awfully sorry about this, Bob. You know I'm
in and out of your house a lot and you never seem to
mind. And tonight I tried to get you on the telephone
to see if we could do something, the three of us I mean,
run down to see a picture or any old thing and the
maid said you were at Colonel Fel ton's; both of you,
I thought she meant. And I called up there about the
time I thought the party would be over and found you
weren't there and asked Evelyn to let me come for her.
And I thought it would be good fun to take a little dash
through the storm and I knew you wouldn't care.
There couldn't be any harm in that; we've all been
out here together lots of times."

"Why, that's perfectly all right, Jimmie!" exclaimed
Cummings with a flourish of magnanimity which did
not, however, awaken the grateful response he may
have expected from Evelyn, who had murmured an
indifferent, "Thank you, Jimmie," when Atwood con-

"There's nothing tragic about this," Cummings be-
gan a little defiantly. "Miss Durland and I have
known each other all our lives. She's an old friend.
"She came out with me just as a lark; just as you and
Jimmie came. I don't want you to think "

"That will do!" said Evelyn rising so suddenly that
Cummings backed away from her in alarm. "Any-
thing you have to say to me needn't be said before
this old friend of yours."

"But, Evelyn, you're not fair!" cried Cummings
hotly. "It isn't fair to Miss Durland. The whole
fault of her being out here is mine. I'll not have
you think "

"You're terribly anxious about what I think!"
Evelyn interrupted. "I'll think what I please!"

Grace, on her way to the sofa on which she had


left her coat and hat, swung round, her face aflame.

"It may not occur to you, Mrs. Cummings, that
what ybu think isn't of the slightest importance."

"You act as though you thought it was!" Evelyn
flung back.

"I'm not acting; you're doing enough of it!"

"You've probably had far more experience in such

"With much better actors than your husband, I

"Humph! I don't believe we're going to like each

"The regret is not mine, I assure you!"

Grace turned to a mirror to straighten her hat. Her
preparations for departure were provocative of
thought in Atwood's mind. He expressed the thought
immediately, evidently with the laudable hope of
lessening the tension.

"Oh, Miss Durland, won't you let me take you
home? I can run you into town without the slight-
est trouble."

Evelyn's surprise at this suggestion betrayed itself
in a spurt of coffee that missed the cup she was filling
and spread in an amber stain on the table cloth.

Grace was walking toward the veranda door draw-
ing on her gloves.

"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Atwood," she said
evenly. "But Mr. Cummings is going to take me

Cummings glanced at his wife, uncertainty plainly
written on his face.

"Why, yes yes " he mumbled.

"I'm waiting, Bob!" said Grace.

He gathered up his raincoat and cap. Grace waited
for him to open the door for her.


"Good night, Mr. Atwood!" she flung over her
shoulder, and the door closed.

"Well, there was that!" Cummings said after they
were in the highway.

"I hope you're satisfied with yourself," said Grace

"Good Lord! Didn't I do the best I could about

"You couldn't have done worse if you'd had a
week to plan it! Instead of standing there like a
fool when your wife came in, why didn't you walk
right up to her like a man and introduce me? You
were scared to death; you thought of nothing but
how you were going to square yourself with her. You
did everything you could to give her the idea that
you were ashamed of me."

"Why, Grace, you can't mean this!" He slowed
down the car the better to talk. "God knows I did
the best I could. I couldn't help being surprised when
they came in. And you never can tell how Evelyn's
going to take anything."

"Oh, yes; it was Evelyn you were troubled about;
you weren't at all worried about me! When you
came out of your trance and tried to explain how I
came to be there the mischief was already done. Of
course she wouldn't listen to you then. You certainly
made a mess of it."

"I don't understand you at all! I swear I did
the best I could."

"Well, it was a pretty poor best! Please mind
what you're doing; you're still so nervous you'll land
in the ditch in a minute."

Thus admonished he steadied himself at the wheel.
Her anger had expended itself and she was now
silently staring ahead at the snow covered road.


No word had passed between them for several
minutes and Grace, absorbed in her own thoughts, was
hoping that he wouldn't attempt to discuss the mat-
ter further. Her respect for him was gone; she
disliked him cordially, seeing him only as a timid,
evasive person whose primary impulse was self -pro-
tection. He might play on the wrong side of a for-
bidden wall but the moment he was discovered he
would scramble for safe territory.

He touched her hand so suddenly that she started
and snatched it away with a feeling of aversion.

"We've both been thinking about what happened
back there," he began. "I don't know just where it
leaves me; I don't know how Evelyn is going to
take it."

He paused, bending forward while he waited for
some encouragement to go on.

"I don't care how Evelyn is going to take it! I
thought I'd made it clear that I didn't want to talk of
your private affairs any more. They don't interest
me in the least."

"Of course if Evelyn wants a row "

"Oh, Bob I Please, be quiet!"

"But I can't leave it this way! You've meant too
much to me for us to part like this. What I was
going to say was is "

She sighed despairingly and resettled herself in her

"What I want you to know is that I care a lot for
you, Grace and if there's a row if we break up,
Evelyn and I, I mean "

"I think you've lost your mind!" she cried furi-

"But, you don't see you don't understand "

"Oh, but I do! If Evelyn turns you out you think


maybe you'd like to give me a trial! That's certainly
an idea! I suppose you have visions of me figuring
in your divorce suit Cummings against Cumrnings!
I don't believe you used to be like this. It's astonish-
ing how you've deteriorated!"

"I didn't expect this from you, Grace!" he replied
bitterly. "I've felt that I could always count on
you to "

The engine began to cough peevishly and he stopped
to investigate.

"Here's luck!" he exclaimed spitefully as he got
back into the car. "Just about enough gas to pull
us to that garage half a mile ahead. I guess some-
body's pinned a jinx on the evening!"

"I'll wait outside," she said when the car had been
coaxed to the garage.

"Only a minute, Grace. I'm awfully sorry."

As she stood on the cement driveway the whistle
followed by a flash of the headlight of an incoming
interurban car on the track that ran parallel with the
highway caught her attention. Across the road sev-
eral people were waiting on the platform and she
resolved to board the car if it stopped before Cum-
mings reappeared. She was in a humor to annoy him
if she could and as the car slowed down she began
to walk slowly toward the platform and then with a
glance over her shoulder ran and swung herself aboard.
As the car got under way she caught a glimpse of the
roadster as Cummings backed it out. She derived
no small degree of satisfaction from the reflection that
her departure in this fashion expressed her scorn
of him more effectually than anything she could have

She left the car at the interurban station and walked
home. Her knowledge of life was broadening and


that too in divisions of the Great Curriculum of whose
very existence she had had only the haziest conscious-
ness. Her freedom, the independence she so greatly
prized, was not without its perils. Her thoughts took
a high range; she wondered whether after all the in-
dividual could, without incurring serious hazards,
ignore the warnings and safeguards established for the
protection of society.

She wanted to laugh over the encounter at Mc-
Govern's, but in the quiet street it was not so
easy to laugh at it. What society had done to
educate her, to fortify and strengthen her for the
battle of life a phrase she detested from her mother's
frequent use of it counted for naught. She was
alarmed to find that she never really reached any
conclusion in attempting to settle her problems.
When she thought she had determined any of the
matters that rose with so malevolent an insistence for
decision some unexpected turn left her still beset by

Two policemen standing on a corner stopped talk-
ing as she passed and she felt their eyes following
her. They symbolized the power of the law; they
were agents of society, they were representatives of
the order of things against which she had been try-
ing to persuade herself she was in rebellion. She now
seriously questioned the desirability of being a rebel;'
such a status had its disagreeable and uncomfortable

When she reached her room she sat down thinking
she would write her usual daily letter to Trenton;!
but with paper before her and a pen in her hand she
was unable to bring herself to it. The disturbance
at McGovern's had shaken her more than she liked
to believe.


In her cogitations, as she lay in the dark unable
to sleep, she wondered whether the incident at Mc-
Govern's might not be a warning, which she would do
well to heed, to discourage Trenton's further atten-
tions. Trenton might in a similar circumstances be-
have no better than Bob had behaved and she was not
anxious to subject herself to the ire of another indig-
nant wife.


GRACE was keenly disappointed at receiving no let-
ter from Trenton the next day. She canvassed all
possible explanations of this first lapse in their cor-
respondence. Whatever might be the cause she de-
cided not to write until she heard from him again.
She passed an unhappy morning and was relieved
when Irene asked her to go to lunch. It was possi-
ble that Irene might have some news of Trenton, as
he and Kemp were constantly in touch with each

"Tell me I look perfectly all right just as though
nothing had happened," Irene remarked when they
had given their order.

"Well, if you want to know, you're just a trifle
paler than usual; but I'd never have noticed it.
What's the trouble?"

Irene answered by holding out her left hand.

"The emerald is no more! Oh, I haven't sent it
back! I've just stuck it down in the bottom of a
drawer with a lot of other old junk. It's all over,
my dear."

"You and Tommy have quitl" Grace exclaimed.

"Finished, quit whatever you like. You'll remem-
ber I told you such things can't last. Please don't
think I wasn't prepared! But to a certain extent
Tommy did fool me. I thought he really cared for
me and I won't deny that I thought a lot of him."

"This is certainly a surprise," Grace remarked, not-



ing signs of dejection in the usually placid Irene that
had previously escaped her.

"Well, I got a line on him a few days ago. It's
a small world and things have a way of getting round."

Irene spoke as one whose philosophy is quite equal
to any demand that may be made upon it. She di-
lated upon the general perfidy of man as though
her personal disappointment was negligible and only
to be mentioned for purposes of illustration. She
continued in this vein so long that Grace began to
fear she was not to learn just what had happened to
shatter Irene's faith in Kemp.

"Let's consider all the male species dead and
buried! I'm dying of curiosity. Just what happened
to you and Tommy?"

"He lied to me, that's all; and I found him out."

"That's too bad; I'm ever so sorry," Grace replied,
not knowing whether Irene sought consolation for the
loss of her lover or wanted to be congratulated on
her prescience in foreseeing the inevitable end of the

"Oh, it's all right with me! But I can't deny that
when it came it was a jar. You see Tommy's mighty
good fun and awfully clever. I learned a lot from
Tommy; he used to tell me everything. I'll wager
he's sorry now he told me a lot of most intimate
things, about people and business and even his family
affairs; but they're safe, I'd never betray his con-
fidence even if he has gone back on me."

"Of course not; you'd never do that," Grace as-
sented, and saw that Irene was pleased by this testi-
mony to her high-mindedness. "Maybe there's some
mistake about it. Of course you'll give Tommy a
chance to explain."

"Oh, I gave him the chance all right enough. It


was over the telephone and, my dear, you should have
heard him gasp when I put it up to him!"

"Go on and tell me what Tommy did or let's stop
talking about it!"

"I'm going to tell you. You and Minnie Lawton
are the only people I could tell. I've been meeting
Tommy at Minnie's apartment and she has to know
why I'm not going there any more. Tommy's al-
ways told me I was the only one that old, old story!
Well, a certain person he didn't know I knew
Tommy was asking me about him the other day.
He said he'd seen Tommy in Chicago with a very
nifty girl he seemed to be chummy with. He saw
them together last Saturday night. Now, Tommy
had a date with me for Saturday evening but he told
me Friday he was going to Chicago unexpectedly with
his wife for the opera. He didn't take his wife to
Chicago I easily found that out. Tommy went to
Chi all right enough but not to hear Mary Garden.
So, there's the end of our little romance."

"What did Tommy have to say for himself?"

"What could he say!" Irene exclaimed disdainfully.
"He wanted to see me of course; said he could ex-
plain everything, but I said good-bye very sweetly
and hung up on him. I'd like to see him explain a
thing like that! I suppose he thought he'd send me
a box of candy and everything would be lovely. I'm
a good deal of a fool, my dear, but hardly to that

"I shouldn't just pick you out to try putting any-
thing over on."

"They're all alike!" Irene resumed, ignoring Grace's
tribute to her perspicacity. "Men expect women to
take everything. Poor Tommy I If he doesn't stop
drinking he's going to die real quick one of these days.


I guess he didn't like my lecturing him so much. You
know I was interested in all his plans he's no end
ambitious and he used to invite my little hints and
suggestions; not that I really know about machinery
or finance, but I suppose I have got a business head."

"You certainly have, Irene. You'll have a big busi-
ness of your own some day or a wonderful position
in New York. You could easily swing our depart-
ment now."

"I suppose I might, but I've almost decided to get
married. Oh, don't jump! I mean when I see a
good chance. Now that I'm done with Tommy the
idea doesn't seem so bad. Perhaps," she added, "per-
haps we're not fair to marriage ! There may be some-
thing in it after all."

"There are still people who think so," said Grace,
impelled to laughter by Irene's gravity.

"Oh, I suppose we've got to recognize it I How's
Ward these days? Still roaming the world?"

"In New York the last I heard of him, and terribly

"Do you know, there's something pathetic about
Ward Trenton," said Irene. "There's something away
back in his mind that he tries to hide even from him-
self! You know what I mean? It's his wife, I sup-
pose. I saw her picture in a magazine not so long ago
and meant to show it to you. She's not at all the
frump you'd expect from her being an author and
lecturer, but quite handsome and smartly got up.
It's certainly queer that a woman like that who has
scads of money and a real man for a husband won't
stay at her own fireside, but has to trot around show-
ing herself off. And Ward's fascinating; those quiet
self-contained men are always fascinating. And they
certainly keep you guessing as to what they think.


Take poor Tommy; once he's away from business he's
got to be amused. But Ward's different. That man
does a lot of solid thinking even when he's out to

"He's kind, he's awfully kind," Grace murmured.

With the Cummings's episode and its very obvious
lesson still playing through her thoughts Grace eagerly
welcomed Irene's praise of Trenton, feeling the need
of just the assurances her friend was giving her as
to his fine qualities, which attained a new dignity in
view of Kemp's inconstancy.

"Ward's perfectly splendid," Irene continued as
though fearing she hadn't done Trenton full justice.
"I've never had any illusions about Tommy; I always
knew I'd have to pass him up some day. But don't
let me shake your faith in dear old Ward. He won't
lie to you; he'd tell the truth if it ruined him."

"You really think that?" asked Grace with a slight
quaver in her voice which the watchful Irene did not

"Of course I think it! But with two people as in-

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 14 of 27)