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open the car window and give him air. Craig's driven
him for years and he'll look after him at home. I'm
sick of this business. If he wants to kill himself let
him go ahead."

"He oughtn't to be left alone at home," said Grace.


"You'd better go in with him, Ward, and see that he
has the doctor."

"You'll do nothing of the kind," said Irene de-
cisively. "I've been through this before and his heart
kicking up this way doesn't mean anything. Alcohol
hits him quick but it doesn't last long. He really
didn't have enough to make a baby tipsy. But he
never learns that he can't stand it. You two just for-
get all about him."

Craig, the chauffeur, came in with Kemp's coat and
they got him into it; but Kemp played for delay.
His dinner engagement was of no consequence; he
insisted that Irene could go alone if she pleased;
she was a quitter and above all things he hated
a quitter. His engagement to dine was at the
Isaac Cummings's, and the fact that he was asked
there called for an elaborate explanation which he
insisted on delivering from the door. People were al-
ways boring him by asking him to do things when his
wife was away, from a mistaken idea that a man alone
in town is a forlorn and pitiable being, subject to the
wiles of people he cares nothing for and in normal cir-
cumstances avoids. He warmed to the work of abus-
ing Cummings; it was an impertinence on the part
of his business competitor to invite him to his house.
The Cummingses were climbers; his wife detested Mrs.
Cummings, and if she had been home he wouldn't have
been trapped into an engagement of which he now pro-
foundly repented; and besides the dinner would be
dry; he would never be able to sit through it. The
insistence of the others that it was a formal function
and that it was too late to withdraw his acceptance
aroused him to an elaborate elucidation of the Cum-
mings's offer of hospitality. Cummings was hard up;
he had sunk a lot of money in oil ventures. Kemp re-


cited a list of Cummings's liabilities, tracing imaginary
tables of figures on the wall with an unsteady finger
and turning to his auditors for their concurrence in
his opinion that Cummings was on the verge of bank-

"Playin' up to me; thinks Tom Kemp's goin' help
him out! Poor boob'd like to merge merge his busi-
ness with me me! No y' don't, Mr. Cummings!" he
bowed mockingly to an imaginary Cummings. The
bow would have landed him on the floor if Trenton
hadn't caught him.

"Jes 7 foolin'; don' need to hoi' me, Ward," he said,
straightening himself. "Goin' home ri' now. Miss
Kirby take my arm! Guess I know my manners;
or 'nary courtesy due lady 'nevery part th' worl'."

Irene steadied him to the car, and after Craig had
lifted him in he waved his hand to Trenton and Grace
with an effort at gaiety.

"House all yours, Ward; make y' present ole Shack.
Burn it down; do's y' please. Jerry'll give y' any-
thin' y' want wine 'neverythin'."


Grace and Trenton watched the car turn the long
bend toward the highway and hurried back to the
fire of hickory logs that crackled merrily in the living-
room fire-place.

"Now for tea!" said Grace. "I ate a huge dinner
but our tramp's given me a new appetite."

She sat down before the tray while he stood by the
hearth, resting his elbow on the mantel-shelf, watch-
ing her. Jerry asked if he should turn on the lights.

"Thank you, no, Jerry;" Grace answered. "The
fire gives light enough. No; don't trouble about din-


ner. You might give us some sandwiches with our

There was a broad smile on Trenton's face as he
took his cup and sat down near her.

"What's the joke, Ward?" she asked. She was now
finding it easy to call him Ward.

"It's not a joke; I was just admiring your manner
of addressing Jerry. It was quite perfect. He was
greatly impressed by it."

"Oh, was that it! What did you expect me to do
snap at him?"

"No; I was only thinking how charming you'd be
as the lady of a great house. Your slaves would wor-
ship you. Jerry caught the idea too; I never saw
him bow so low."

"Jerry's adorable," she murmured, her eyes flash-
ing her appreciation of Trenton's compliment. "But,
really I must look awful; my hair's in a mess. I'll run
upstairs and give it a smoothing as soon as we've had

"Please don't! I like it that way. The dark frame
for your face adds a charm that's bewildering!"

"What did Tommy mean about Cummings?" she
asked presently. "Isn't the Cummings business pros-

"Tommy must know what he's talking about.
He never quite loses his head even when he's
drunk. These are anxious times and it's quite pos-
sible that Cummings is hard up. Tommy can afford
to feel easy because he's well off even without his
manufacturing business. I've got to do something
about Tommy, though," he went on thoughtfully.
"His New York doctor told me he'll have to stop his
monkey shines or something unpleasant will happen
to him. While I'm here I'm going to try to get him


to submit to treatment. But he's not easy to manage
frankly says he prefers a short life and a merry one.
We've got to save Tommy if we can."

He smiled a little sadly. Grace liked the way he
talked of Kemp and listened attentively while he gave
many instances of Tommy's kindness and generosity.

"About your father's improvements on the motor,"
Trenton continued, "I'll go into that while I'm here.
From the claims of the new patents it would appear
that he's got something of real value; but we'll have
to give them a try-out. We can do that at Kemp's
shop. Of course Tommy will be anxious to get the
new ideas if they're practical."

"Even a small success just now will mean so much
to father," said Grace. "He was greatly excited by
your letter and had to be convinced that you weren't
acting for Cummings. He pretends to mother that
there was nothing unfair in Cummings's treatment of
him, but deep down in his heart he's terribly bitter."

A fire makes for intimacy and their concord was
now so complete that silence had all the felicity of
speech. The perfect expression of love may be con-
veyed in a glance and from time to time their eyes
met in communications too precious for words.
After these mute periods the talk would ripple on
again unhurriedly as though they were the inheritors
of immeasurable time.

In moments of animation when her dark eyes
flashed and she smilingly invited his response she dis-
closed now and beguiling charms. In its disorder her
hair emphasized what Irene was fond of calling
Grace's gypsy look.

The tea disposed of, she sent away the tray and as
his cigarette case was empty she filled it from a box
Jerry found for her.


"It seems funny to be using other people's things
this way," she remarked. "It's like finding a house
in perfect running order on a desert island."

"You don't know what a joy it is to be waited on in
this fashion."

He looked up at her fondly as she stood beside him.
When she returned the case he drew her upon his
knees, took her hand and scrutinized it closely. He
pressed a kiss upon the palm and closed his fingers
upon it.

"How long will you keep it?" he asked.

"The hand?" she asked provokingly.

"No; what I've just put into it!"
'"Oh, I don't need to keep that, do I? Won't there
be some more?"

"Millions!" he replied and clasped her tight.

"Your hands are finely shaped and interesting,
Ward. Oh, you have a double life line! You'll never
die! The Mount of Apollo is wonderfully developed
don't you see it, right there? Of course that's what
that is. It's plain enough why music affects you so.
You really might have been an artist of some kind

This called for an argument in the course of which
she got illuminative glimpses of him as a boy who
was always interested in machinery. He had been
predestined to the calling he had chosen but confessed
that sometimes he wished that he had tried his hand
at executive work.

"I may do it yet," he said. "I have opportunities
occasionally, which I'm probably foolish to let pass, to
take hold of big concerns. But I've liked my freedom
to roam. It's helped solve my problem to be able to

"Yes, I understand, dear," she said softly, stroking


his hair. She knew that by his problem he meant his
wife. Though she had accepted as sincere his ex-
planation of his relations with Mrs. Trenton, she re-
sented in spite of herself even this remote reference to
the woman whom she had never seen but had con-
stantly tried to visualize.

"I might even move to Indianapolis one of these
days," he was saying. "I have a standing offer from
Tommy to come and help him run his plant. I tell
him it's his game to wish his job on me so he can
have more time to play. And Tommy doesn't need

She drew from his waistcoat pocket the locket that
had so aroused her curiosity at their first meeting.

"What's in this, Ward?" she asked, holding up the
round gold trinket.

"Oh, that!" he said, frowning at it.

"Don't look so cross! Must I tease you to show me
what's inside?"

As she dangled it at arm's length he encouraged
the idea that its contents were secret by snatching it

"It's the darkest of mysteries. What will you give
me for a peep?"

"I might give you one kiss," she said, deliberating,
"if I like what's inside."

"Oh, I must have three!"

"Agreed. But don't show me if you don't want to."

"Well, it's a great concession, a privilege reserved
only for royalty."

He opened the locket guardedly, so turning it as to
conceal the inner surfaces.

"Just a moment, please. Do you stand by the bar-



He gave it to her, laughing at her disappointment
at finding it empty.

"Fraud!" she exclaimed. "How long has it been

"Do you really want to know?" he asked, suddenly

"Yes; but not if you'd rather not tell me."

"I can't give the exact date, but you can approxi-
mate it for yourself. Do you remember the first time
I wrote you from St. Louis? It seems aeons ago!"

"Yes; I'll never forget that."

"Well, that night I took out and destroyed a little
photograph I'd carried there for a good many years.
I'll leave you to guess why I didn't care for it any

"Your wife's picture?"

"Yes; I bought the locket right after we were en-
gaged and the picture had been there until I took it
out that night in St. Louis."

"Tell me more about how you came to take it out,"
she asked with the insistence of a child demanding the
continuation of a story. "Didn't it have any kind of
meaning for you any more, not even little associa-
tions memories you wouldn't lose?"

"No; it was as though something had died in me
and utterly ceased to be. I was wondering about a
lot of things that night. After I had written to you
I wrote a letter to Mrs. Trenton. She had said from
time to time that if I ever found myself interested in
another woman not to be afraid to tell her. I don't
know how seriously she meant that. Odd as it may
seem, I don't know Mrs. Trenton! I used to think I
did but that was sheer conceit on my part. As long
as she had made that suggestion about telling her if
I met a woman who really appealed to me more than


she did I thought I'd tell her about you. Oh, I didn't
tell your name nor where you live!" he exclaimed
seeing the look of consternation on Grace's face. "My
agreement with her was half a joke; in later years I've
never quite known when to take her seriously. I
suppose I wrote her more to feel her out as to whether
she might not have reached the point where it would
be a good thing to quit altogether."

"Well," Grace asked, "what did she say?"

"Oh, so far her only answer has been a magnificent
silence! The philosophers agree, don't they, that a
woman doesn't always mean what she says? But a
silence is even more baffling. What would you say
about it?"

"A little ominous perhaps "

"Contempt, disdain, indifference? Maybe she's just
awaiting further advices, as we say in business."

"Possibly she never got the letter."

"That's conceivable; she's a fast traveler; the mails
have hard work to catch up with her."

"You don't really know whether she got the letter
or what she would have written if she received it.
Maybe she's just waiting for a chance to talk to you
about it."

"Well, in any event we needn't worry about it," said
Trenton with a shrug. She rose and drew up a low
rocker and sat beside him, facing the fire.

"I'd like to have seen your letter," said Grace,

"I told her you kissed me. Like a brave man I put
the responsibility on you!"

"Oh, that wasn't fair!" she cried hastily. "It would
be sure to give her a bad impression of me."

"I think I intimated that it was only such a kiss as
a daughter might bestow upon a father she didn't


think so badly of! I shall always be glad that our first
kiss was like that; we've traveled a long way since

"Every step has been so dear," she said contentedly.
"I think I could never forget one single thing. I
don't believe I've forgotten a word you've ever said to
me. And when you were away I lived our times all
over again. And I like to imagine that we talk to each
other by our own private wireless etfen when you are
miles away. I think I can imagine just what you
would say and how you would look when you said it.
Oh, " she bent forward quickly and grasped his
hand in both of hers; her lips quivered and there was
a mist in her eyes. "Oh! I wish I didn't love you so

"Has it occurred to you," he asked, "that we're
alone away out here in the woods?"

"I don't feel a bit lonesome; I'd never be afraid
anywhere with you!"

The fire had burned low and she watched admir-
ingly his manner of replenishing it. He used the
shovel to push back the ashes and bring the embers to-
gether in a neat bed, in the center of which he dropped
a fresh log with calculated accuracy. It was his
scientific mind, she reflected, habituated to careful
planning even in unimportant things. He stood for a
moment inspecting his work; moved the log a trifle;
watched attentively the effect of the change, and as
the dry loose bark broke into flame brushed the hearth
neatly and smiled into her eyes as he found her at
his side.

"You do everything just right! I love to see you use
your hands," she said. "They're so strong and skill-

"I ought to know something about fires; I've made


enough of them. As a young fellow I did a lot of jobs
that took me into remote places, surveying and con-
struction gangs; and I've camped a bit hunting and
fishing. I might even say that I can make coffee and
fry bacon without utterly destroying their food

She established him before the fire in the most com-
fortable chair in the room and sat at his feet. With
her arms folded ifjDon his knees to make a resting place
for her head she listened with the rapt attention a
child gives to a beguiling chronicler as he told how he
was lost for three days in the Canadian wilds, and of
a flight by canoe on a stormy night to fetch a doctor
for one of his party who had fallen ill. He had given
her from the first a sense of far horizons, and to-
night her fancy perfected every picture his narratives
suggested of hills and woodlands and streams. They
constituted a new back-ground against which she saw
in him an heroic figure equal to any demand that
might be made upon his strength and courage.

"One of these days," he went on, "We must do the
Canadian Rockies together; and then I'd like to take
you to some places I know in Maine just guides and
canoes and us; and I want to do India before I die,
but not without you. You're in all my future! I want
to live a long time to enjoy life with you. Does that
appal you?"

She was gazing wide-eyed into the fire, her dark
eyes the harbor of dreams, and he laughed and bent
forward to touch her cheek and break the spell that
bound her.

"I should love it all, dear!" she said with a happy
sigh. "To be with you, to share everything with you!
Oh, that would be more happiness than I could bear!"


"You do love me; tell me, dear, once more, that
you do!"

"More than all this earth and the stars I More
than all the other universes beyond this onel" she
cried, laughing at her extravagance.

He raised his hand and bade her listen.

"I thought the wind changed awhile ago. The
weather spirit's abroad. Let's have a look."

He threw on the porch lights and opened the front
door. It was snowing hard; the porch steps and drive-
way were already covered, and the nearest trees had
been transformed into ghostly sentinels. She clapped
her hands in delight at the beauty of it.

"It makes me think of 'Snow Bound,' " she said when
they had gone back to the fire. "I used to know some
of that poem. Little Grace will now recite for you!"
She assumed the attitude of a school girl recitationist
and repeated, gesturing awkwardly:

'What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north- wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire's ruddy glow.'
I'm talented; you can see thatl What if we
should be snowed in?"

"What if we should!" he answered. "Tommy al-
ways carries a full larder and we wouldn't starve to

With her hands clasped before her she gazed down
at the flames. He drew his arm about her waist and
the room was silent save for the cosy murmur of the

"Why not stay here all night? Jerry hasn't left and
he'll spend the night if I ask him and give us break-
fast. I suppose you have to go to the store to-


"Yes, " the assent was to one or all of his ques-
tions as he might choose to interpret it.

"We can go hi of course, early in the morning. I
have a nine o'clock engagement myself."

"They'll be expecting me at home," she said, pon-
dering deeply, "but if I could telephone from
here "

"I think Tommy's connected direct with the city
exchange. Jerry can tell us."

He rang for Jerry, who confirmed his impression
as to the telephone connection.

Trenton detained the boy to ask for more logs
while Grace went to the pantry to telephone.

"Were you going into town tonight, Jerry?"

"No, Mr. Trenton; too complete snowing. I very
well stay all night."

"The runabout's in order, is it?"


"Miss Durland and I are spending the night. If
you could give us breakfast, Jerry?"

"With much ease, Mr. Trenton."

Trenton lit a cigarette and smoked meditatively
while Jerry noiselessly filled the wood box. Grace
reappeared as Jerry stood awaiting further instruc-

"Oh, Grace, what time shall we say for breakfast?"
Trenton asked casually.

"I must be at the store at eight-thirty," she an-
swered from the door.

"Then breakfast at seven? We'd better allow a
little extra time in case the snow keeps up. Seven it
is, Jerry."

The boy left them and could be heard moving
about upstairs. A clock struck ten and Trenton ex-
claimed at the hour.


"I'd have guessed it wasn't more than eight! The
hours do jump along when the heart's light. Any
difficulty about not going in?"

"No; not at all. Every one was out but father and
I merely said I was at the house of a girl friend and
would spend the night there."

She walked to a table and began inspecting the
books that were arranged upon it in careful order.
It might have seemed that she wished to avoid meet-
ing his eyes immediately. He hesitated a moment then
crossed to her quickly.

"It's always interesting to see what books you find
in a country house," he said. "But it's a mistake to
judge the owner by the literature you find lying about;
it's usually the discards of the guests. At the place
where I caused so much disappointment by not
dying "

"Oh, please don't say it, even as a joke, Wardl"
she pleaded, dropping a book she had opened and lay-
ing her hands on his arm.

"Well, I won't then! I was jealous of that book.
You were so absorbed I almost felt that I was alone
in the room. And I was horribly oppressed by the
general vacancy, emptiness, voidness! Now my van-
ity is touched to find that you hadn't really gone away
and left me; you're very much here!"

"You're so foolish!" she said. "What were the
books you found in your room at that place where
you were ill?"

"Oh, they were on the occult and had been left
behind by some enthusiastic spook hunter. After
that hour when I so plainly saw you right there by
my bed I studied those books carefully. I wanted to
explain the transformation of a very plain nurse in
spectacles into the most beautiful girl in the world!"


"And, did you explain it?"

"Yes; but not from the books!"

"How was it then?"

"My heart did the explaining. I knew I loved you!
^That's the answer to all my questions."

"You do love me, Ward, really and truly?"

"Yes, dear," and then with head lifted he added as
though repeating a pledge from some ritual: "With
all my heart, with all my soul, with every hope of
happiness I have for the future, I love you!"

He took her in his arms and held her so that he
could look down into her eyes.

"I want to be everything to you; I want to fill your
heart so that you will turn to me in every need. I want
you, all or nothing!"

Her lips parted tremulously, inviting his kiss. She
felt singularly secure and content in his arms.

"All or nothing?" she repeated in a low whisper.

"Yes! There was no escape for us from the be-
ginning," he said slowly. "It's been like a drawing
of the tide that no man's hand could stay."

They walked slowly to the hearth, his hands thrust
deep into his coat pockets. He eyed the fire critically
and rearranged the half-burnt logs.

"Guess I'd better put this up as a precaution," he re-
marked lifting the wire screen that stood against the
wall and laying it against the arch under the mantel.
"Run along, dear. I'll see to the locking up."

He went into the hall and snapped on the lights
and kissed his hand to her as she started up the
steep, old-fashioned stair. The lights were turned on
in all the rooms and humming softly she wandered
through them, pausing finally in one in which a suit-
case lay open on a chair, evidently placed there by


Jerry. She recognized it as Irene's, kept at The Shack
for occasions when she spent the night there.

Below, Trenton was testing the fastening of the
doors. She lifted her head, listening intently as she
heard his step.


As she dressed the next morning Grace saw a white
world reluctantly disclosing itself in the gray dawn.
Trenton was already gone, and hearing the scraping
of a shovel she looked out and saw him clearing a
path that led to an old barn which Kemp had con-
verted into a garage. Jerry darted out of the kitchen
to remonstrate and Trenton ceased from his labors
to fling a shovelful of snow at him.

When she went down Trenton met her in the hall,
kissed her and led her with mock ceremony to the
dining room door.

"Breakfast for two! Something awfully cozy about
that table, with the plates so close together 1"

"Just perfect! I'd like to take a run through the
snow; wouldn't it be jolly! And there's that hill we
climbed yesterday that would be a grand place for

"No time for that now!" he replied looking at his
watch. "There's a good six inches of snow and
being out so early we'll have to be pathfinders.
It will be about all we can do to hit Washington street
by eight-thirty. There's going to be waffles and maple
syrup for breakfast. I got that out of Jerry; also
bacon and guaranteed eggs."

"The Olympians had nothing on us!" she replied in
his own key of gaiety.


"Oh, we are become even as the gods!" he cried,
drawing out her chair. "This is a touch breakfast
by candlelight!"

Tall candles in glass holders lighted the table.
Grace for a fleeting moment thought of the kitchen
at home, where her mother and Ethel were now pre-
paring breakfast, wholly ignorant of her whereabouts.
Trenton saw the smile waver and leave her face, and
he bent over and laid his hand on hers.

"You know No! you don't, you can't know what
all this means to me! I feel as though I'd been dead
and come to life again!"

"Does it mean so much, dear?" she asked, her eyes,
intent and searching, meeting his.

"If you look at me like that, dear," he replied, "I'll
never be able to finish this grapefruit!" Then with a
quick change of tone he asked anxiously:

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 18 of 27)