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cogitations she realized that beyond question Irene
knew much more of life. Aware of Grace's frequent
glances at the emerald, Irene held up her hand.

"Rather pretty, isn't it?" she asked carelessly.
"That cost some real money. A little gift from a
man who is foolish enough to admire me."

"It's perfectly beautiful," said Grace as Irene
spread her fingers on the table. "It's the very newest
setting and a wonderful stone. I don't believe I ever
saw you wear a ring before."

"It's the first I've worn in years; but this is too
good to hide." She looked at the stone absently. "By
the way, Grace, you don't seem to be burdened with
engagements. I wonder if you'd care to drive into
the country tomorrow evening for dinner a little
party of four. My friend the man who gave me
this," she held up her hand, "has a guest, a most
interesting man you'd be sure to like. If you haven't


anything better to do it might amuse you to meet
him. A party of three is a little awkward and you'd
balance things beautifully."

Grace's heart quickened to find herself at last ad-
mitted to Irene's confidence, a thing flattering in itself.
Ethel's charge that Irene was accepting the attentions
of a married man was probably true, or the girl would
have approached the matter differently. It dawned
upon Grace that the word party had a meaning
previously unknown to her, signifying a social event
clandestine in character, in which the wives of married
men were not participants. The idea was novel and
it caused Grace's wits to range over a wide field of

"I suppose men do sometimes take their wives on
parties that are a little different just a quiet little
kick-up?" she ventured.

"Not so you'd exactly notice it," Irene answered,
with a shrug and a smile of indulgence at Grace's
innocence. "A wife knows her husband and all his
jokes; why should she meet him socially!"

"Tomorrow night's our French class," said Grace,
recovering herself quickly. "We'd have to cut it."

"Oh, I hadn't forgotten that. To be frank about it,
I thought that would make it easier for you to get
away. I don't know just how your folks at home
are whether they always check you up as to where
you go. As you've been staying down town on lesson
nights that would help you put it over. I suggested
Friday night to my friend instead of Saturday, hoping
to make sure of you. There are plenty of girls who'll
go on parties but this is a case where just any girl
won't do. You'll fit in perfectly and I hope you'll


"Thanks, ever so much, Irene; of course, I'm


pleased to death to go," said Grace. "But, you'll
have to tell me what to wear; my wardrobe's rather

"Oh, the occasion doesn't call for magnificence.
Dinner's to be in a charming old house about fourteen
miles from town. I'm going to wear the simplest
thing I have."

"It's awfully nice of you to ask me," said Grace,
her eyes dancing at the prospect. "But if I mustn't
mention the party at home, I'll have to get in early so
mother and Ethel won't suspect anything."

"Let them suspect, honey! My family used to try
to check me up every time I went to the corner to
mail a postal; but they've got over it. By the way,
I think that sister of yours doesn't like me. I passed
her in the street yesterday and she gave me what I
shouldn't call a loving look."

"She didn't mean anything," said Grace. "It's just
that Ethel takes herself a little bit too seriously. She
has all the old-fashioned ideas about things."

"She's got the uplift idea and all that sort of stuff.
I met her in the office one day looking up a girl who
had dropped out of her church club or something.
That's all fine work; I'm not sneering at it; but people
who go in for that kind of thing ought to remember
we're not all born with wings."

"Oh, Ethel means well," said Grace, her mind upon
the proposed dinner for four in the country, of which
she was anxious to hear more. "What time do we

"Seven o'clock. You may be sure I trust you or I
shouldn't be asking you to go on this party," said
Irene. "It's not a social event for the society col-
umnsjust an intimate little dinner to be forgotten
when we all say good night. Our host is Mr. Kemp


Thomas Ripley Kemp. You've seen his factory;
it's as big as all outdoors. Don't look so scared!
Tommy's a peach! You can't fail to like Tommy."

"Mr. Kemp is married?" Grace ventured a little

"Oh, Tommy's been married for centuries! His
wife's one of Shipley's best customers. She's awfully
nice; I tell Tommy he ought to be ashamed of him-
self! Tommy's not stingy with his family, and he's
terribly proud of them. He has a daughter in an
Eastern college a stunning girl. Elaine is just about
my age, isn't it weird!"

"I think I never saw Mr. Kemp, but of course I've
heard of him," remarked Grace, bewildered by the
familiar tone in which Irene spoke of Kemp and his
family. "The other man what's he like?" she asked
with feigned carelessness.

"Oh, his name's Ward Trenton and he lives in Pitts-
burgh and is a consulting engineer and a way-upper all
right. Tommy thinks the sun rises and sets in Ward.
Ward drops in here every month or two and Tommy
always throws him a party, sometimes at home or at
one of the clubs; and when that's the ticket he
naturally forgets to invite me! Screaming, isn't it?
Ward isn't really a sport like Tommy, but he'll go on
a party and keep amused in his own peculiar way.
He does a lot of thinking, that man. You'll under-
stand when you meet him. I'm never sure whether
Ward approves of me, but he's always nice."

"He may not like me at all," said Grace.

"Don't be foolish! You're just the kind of girl men
of that sort like. They're bored to death by girls
you know the kind who begin every sentence with
'say' or 'listen,' and would drop dead if they ever had
an idea. Tommy's the higher type of business man,"


Irene went on. "College education, fond of music and
pictures and that sort of thing. By the way, Tommy
has no particular love for that Cummings your father
was in business with so long. Make the same line of
stuff, don't they? The Cummingses are going strong
since they moved up among the swells and it annoys
Tommy a good deal. You know his folks landed here
in 1820 and he's full of old family pride. He's per-
fectly screaming about it!"

"And Mr. Trenton " Grace ventured, "is he mar-
ried too?"

"All the nice men are more or less married, my
dear! Ward is and he isn't. Tommy's never seen
Mrs. Trenton, but there is such a person. Ward
speaks of his wife in the friendliest sort of way, but
they don't meet often, I imagine."

When Grace recurred to the matter of changing
her clothes for the party, Irene's resourcefulness
promptly asserted itself.

"There's a very chic suit in stock, marked down
from eighty-seven to forty-two on account of an im-
perfection in the embroidery on the cuffs. It will do
wonderfully and if you haven't the money handy I'll
take care of it till you strike a fat week. We'll try it
on you this afternoon and if you like it we'll send it up
to Minnie Lawton's apartment and you can change
there. I'll be doing the same fact is, I keep a few
duds at Minnie's for just such emergencies. Minnie's
a good scout and attends strictly to her own business."

The Minnie Lawton Irene referred to held a re-
sponsible position with a jobbing house. Grace had
met her at lunch with Irene several times and had
found her a diverting person.

"Minnie's a broadminded woman," Irene remarked.
"I usually meet Tommy at Minnie's when we're going


on a party, and that's the schedule for tomorrow
evening. I'll call Tommy now and tell him every-
thing's set."

The suit proved to be all that Irene had promised.
Grace was not unaware that the attendants were ob-
serving her with frankly approving eyes.

"It certainly sets you off, Eighteen. That shade of
Oriental blue is just right for you," said one girl.

"An inch off the sleeve will help; the collar pinches
the least bit or does it?" remarked Irene to the
hovering fitter. "All right then; thank you."

Grace asked for an extra hour at noon the next day
for a hair-washing, marcelling and manicuring, saying
to Miss Boardman that she had an engagement with
the dentist. Irene had suggested this, explaining that
it wasn't lying as all the girls gave the same reason
when asking extra time for any purpose, and Miss
Boardman wasn't deceived by it.

Beyond a few experiments in her youth for which
she was promptly punished, Grace had rarely resorted
to deception; but manifestly she would be obliged to
harden herself to the practice if she yielded to the
temptation to broaden her experiences beyond th*e
knowledge of the home circle. She tried to think of
all the calamities that might befall her. Her father
or mother might become ill suddenly; an attempt
might be made to reach her at the rooms of the French
instructor; but instead of being dismayed by the pos-
sibility Grace decided that it would be easy enough to
explain that she had gone unexpectedly to the house
of some friends of Irene who lived in the country.
She was sure she could make a plausible story of this;
and besides, if any one became so ill as to cause search
to be made for her the fact that she hadn't gone to
the French lesson would be overlooked. There might


be an automobile accident; the thought was disturb-
ing but it troubled Grace only passingly.

"You'll soon learn to be ready with an alibi if you
get caught," said Irene. "But the more independence
you show the less you'll be bothered."

Lively expectations of a novel experience that prom-
ised amusement outweighed Grace's scruples before
the closing hour of the appointed day. She and Irene
left the store together and found a taxi to carry them
to Minnie Lawton's apartment.

"We'll escape the trolley crowd," said Irene placid-
ly, "and save time. Minnie's not going home for sup-
per but I've got a key to her flat and we'll have the
place to ourselves."

They were dressed and waiting when Kemp and
his friend Trenton arrived. Assailed at the last
moment by misgivings as to the whole adventure,
Grace was relieved by her first glimpse of the two
men. Kemp was less than her own height, of slender
build and with white hair that belied the youthful color
in his cheeks. The gray in his neatly trimmed
mustache was almost imperceptible. Grace had pic-
tured him of a size commensurate with his importance
as the head of one of the largest industries in the
city, but he was almost ridiculously small and didn't
even remotely suggest the big masterful type she had
imagined. His face lighted pleasantly as Irene in-
troduced him. His power was denoted in his firm
mouth and more particularly in his clear steady hazel

"It's so nice that you could come," he said. "I've
known of your family a long time, of course, and
Irene brags about you a great deal."

In marked contrast to Kemp, Trenton was tall and
of athletic build, with gray-blue eyes, and a smile that


came a little slowly and had in it something wistful
and baffling that piqued curiosity and invited a
second glance. Grace appraised his age at about forty.
She instantly decided that she preferred him to Kemp;
he was less finished with nothing of Kemp's dapper-
ness. His careless way of thrusting his hands into the
pockets of his coat pleased her; he was not thinking
of himself, not concerned as to the impression he
made; slightly bored perhaps by the whole proceed-

Trenton had greeted Irene cordially as an old
acquaintance and it was evident that the three had
met at other parties.

"I'm starving," said Irene; "let's be moving,

"Certainly," replied Kemp. "I'm beginning to feel
a pang myself."

A chauffeur opened the door of a big limousine that
was waiting at the curb. They were quickly speeding
countryward with Irene and Grace on the back seat
with Trenton between them. Kemp, on one of the ad-
justable chairs, crossed his legs with the easy non-
chalance characteristic of him.

"How's business, Irene?" he asked. "Are the dol-
lars rolling into the Shipley till?"

"My department is running ahead of last year's
business," said Irene, "but there's less call for the
best grades."

"So? Same reports all over the country. We must
charge it up to the war. Well, we can't change busi-
ness conditions tonight. We'll all die bankrupt if
things don't take a brace and we may as well eat and
be merry while we can. Am I right, Ward?"

"Certain, Tommy."


"Don't always agree with me!" cried Kemp with
feigned asperity. "You have a most disagreeable way
of pretending to agree with me when you don't."

"You're too good a client for me to quarrel with.
And besides you're always right, Tommy."

"Do stop spoiling him!" cried Irene. "Everybody
spoils Tommy."

"Not youl" returned Kemp. "Your business in
life seems to be to keep me humble."

"It doesn't show on you! You don't see any signs
of it, do you, Ward?"

"I think he's aging fast," replied Trenton. "He's
breaking down under the weight of his own humility."

"Find the man who's giving the party! It's going
to be a beautiful evening for me. Just one knock
after another! Grace, don't let these birds prejudice
you against me!"

Kemp addressed her by her first name quite as
though they were old acquaintances. They were skim-
ming rapidly over the Meridian street bridge and her
diffidence began to pass.

"I'll be your friend, Mr. Kemp," she said. "You
needn't mind what the others say."

"That will be all right; he needs friends; but don't
mister him. He's Tommy to one and all."

" { O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an'

"Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when

the band begins to play',"

Kemp quoted. "It's the same old story!" he fin-
ished in mock dejection.

"Speaking of music, did you bring some new
records, Tommy?" Irene inquired. "The ones you
have at the farm date from Rameses."


"Yes; there's a package of 'em up in front, the very
latest jazz, and a few classic pieces for my own private

"That's just like him," said Irene. "Tommy thinks
no one appreciates good music but himself."

Kemp and Irene continued to do most of the talk-
ing, occasionally appealing to Grace or Trenton to
support them in their good-natured contentions. For
a time Kemp and Trenton discussed business as
frankly as though they were alone. Grace began to
understand what Irene meant when she spoke of
knowing men of attainment and enjoying their con-
fidence. Kemp was saying that he was prepared to
enlarge his plant the moment business took an up-
ward turn. He meant to strike out more boldly into
the South American markets than he had ever done
before. His competitors didn't know it, and he didn't
want them to know it, but he already had men down
there preparing for an aggressive campaign. His tone
was optimistic and confident. It was evident that he
paid great deference to Trenton's opinions and was
anxious for his approval of his plans. Once after
Trenton had answered at length and with the care
that seemed to be habitual with him a technical ques-
tion as to the production by a new method of castings
of a certain kind, Kemp turned and remarked to the
young women:

"That answer's worth money! It's a joy to talk to
a man who knows his stuff."

"Even I could understand it!" said Grace, "or I
thought I did."

Her father sometimes had explained to her problems
in mechanics and Trenton had employed terms with
which she was familiar.

"I'd rather expect you to know something about


such things, Grace," said Kemp. "Your father was
a pioneer in certain fields. Stephen Durland, you
know, Ward, used to be in the Cummings concern."

"I know the name of course. I've run across it
frequently in the patent office reports. Your father's
been a prolific inventor."

"Yes; he's always inventing something, but I'm
afraid many of his things don't work!"

"That's true of hundreds," said Kemp, "but cer-
tain of Stephen Durland's inventions are still standard.
I know because I've tried to cut under 'em with things
of my own! It was a scoundrelly trick for Cummings
to put him out of the company that's what I under-
stand happened. You know I believe every mean
thing I hear about Cummings."

"Oh, I suppose it was strictly a business matter,"
said Grace.

"Beastly ingratitude, I'd call it," exclaimed Kemp.
"I've been told that your father waived all rights to
royalty on all the patents he put into the company and
Cummings only gave him a fifth of the stock in the
original corporation to cover everything. Do pardon
me! But that whole business made me hot when I
heard about it."

"It was pretty hard to bear," Grace murmured.

"I'm no angel," said Kemp, "but in the long run I
think we get it in the neck if we don't play the game
straight. Cummings is riding for a fall. It tickles me
to see two or three places right now where he's likely
to come a cropper. His narrowness and lack of vision
are going to have the usual result."

"But you, the great Kemp, are going to push right
ahead!" laughed Trenton, laying his hand on his
friend's knee.

"Oh, nothing can keep Tommy down," exclaimed


Irene in mock admiration. "Tommy's brain isn't
just cottage cheese."

Kemp enjoyed their chaffing and encouraged it.
They were still discussing Grace's suggestion that
Mars and other planets might become littered with
Kemp machinery as new markets were sought for it
when they reached the farm.


A winding road led from the highway through a strip
of woodland that bore upward to a ridge where the
lights of the house suddenly burst upon them. The
river, Kemp explained, lay just below.

A Japanese boy in white duck flung open the door
and smilingly bowed them in.

Kemp called his place The Shack, but in reality
it was a dignified old homestead that had been en-
larged and only slightly modernized. The parlor and
sitting room of the old part had been thrown into one
room with the broad fire place preserved. The floors
were painted and covered with rag rugs; the fur-
niture was of a type that graced the homes of well-to-
do Middle Westerners in about the period of the
Mexican war. The rooms were lighted by a variety
of glass table-lamps with frosted shades adorned with
crystal pendants. These survivals of the days of
"coal-oil" lighting were now cleverly arranged to con-
ceal the electrical source of their illumination.

"Isn't it a peach of a house?" demanded Irene as
she convoyed Grace through the lower rooms with a
careless air of proprietorship. She led the way up
the steep stairway, that had been retained as built by
the original owner, to the rooms above. The exten-


sions, following strictly the original simple architec-
ture, made a commodious place of the house, which
rambled on in an inadvertent fashion bewildering to
a first visitor. A wing that had been added in recent
years was hardly distinguishable from the old rooms.
Concessions to modern convenience and comfort had
been made in the sleeping rooms, of which there were
half a dozen, with white woodwork, walls in neutral
tints, and wicker furniture in summer cottage style.

"It's all perfectly adorable," cried Grace as they
paused in one of the rooms.

"You've got to hand it to Tommy," remarked Irene;
"he does have taste."

"Maybe " Grace hesitated and Irene instantly
read her thoughts.

"Oh, you're looking for the traces of a woman's
hand! Bless your heart, Mrs. Kemp doesn't bother
about The Shack! It was Tommy's idea. The fam-
ily come out for week ends in the spring and fall and
Tommy makes a point of having Thanksgiving and
Christmas dinners out here, and Mrs. Kemp invites
the guests. I need hardly say" Irene walked to a
chiffonier and inspected her face intently in the mir-
ror "that I've never been invited to these en famille

"It seems queer," remarked Grace, dropping her
hat on the bed, "I mean it's queer our being here
when she doesn't know!"

"Why not?" said Irene, surveying herself slowly
before the glass. "She'd probably like us if she knew
us, and didn't know we work for a living. If Tommy
just has to play a little isn't it fine that he chooses nice
little playmates like us? He might do much worse,
and get into awful scrapes. You needn't be afraid
that the lady of the house will come tearing in and


make a fuss. Tommy never takes a chance. Her
ladyship's in New York spending a lot of money and
having a grand old time. For all we know she's play-
ing around a little bit herself!"

"Oh, it wasn't that I was thinking of so much,"
Grace replied hastily. "I was just thinking that it's
like a play, this quaint interesting house hidden away,
with all these lovely things, and kind of funny to think
that there is a woman somewhere who belongs here."

"While we're here we belong, my dear. We'll pre-
tend it's all ours. My conscience had awful twinges
the first time I came out; but one does somehow get
used to things. There's no use bucking the spirit of
the age; we've got to step to the music of the band.
Tommy prefers a party of four and nearly always
brings an out of town man, so I have to find the other
girl. If you like this party I'll put you on for some

She swung around and eyed Grace critically.

"You're just right! Tommy whispered to me in
the car that you were wonderful, the first thing you
know he'll be flirting with you."

"Don't be so foolish! Any one can see that he's
crazy about you."

"Well, that kind of insanity doesn't last. These
little affairs are good for a while, but something always
happens sooner or later."

She spoke with cheerful indifference as though it
were the inevitable ordering of fate that such affairs
should be brief.

At the table, with candles diffusing a yellow glow
upon the silver and crystal the party struck at once
a key of gaiety.

"Don't be afraid of the cocktail, Grace," said Kemp,


lifting his glass; "only a little orange juice and a very
good gin I planted out here in the woods before pro-

"When all the rest of the world is dry Tommy will
still have a few bottles put away," said Irene. "There's
going to be champagne, too! Here's to you, Tommy! "

Grace sipped the cocktail warily, drank a third of it
and put it down with a covert glance at the others to
see whether they were watching her.

"We're all entitled to a dividend," said Kemp. "Get
busy, Jerry."

Grace was fingering the stem of the cocktail glass,
meditating whether she should try it again, when Tren-
ton met her gaze. Irene and Kemp were talking
animatedly, quite indifferent to the other members of
the party.

"You really don't want that," Trenton said. "If
you're not used to it let it alone."

He took her glass, brimming from the dividend
Jerry had poured into it, and slowly drained it.

With a smile Grace quickly moved the glass back in
front of her plate, glancing at Irene and Kemp to see
whether they were observing her.

"Thank you ever so much. I really am not used
to those things."

"I thought not; otherwise I should have let you

"How did you know?" she asked.

"Oh, that's part of my business, to know things
without being told. You might say that I earn my
living that way."

He seemed amused about something; he constantly
seemed secretly amused in a way of his own; but there
was no mistaking his wish to be kind, and Grace was


grateful for his kindness. The light touch of his
fingers as he took the glass from her hand was in
itself reassuring.

"We're alone hi the midst of a deep, dark forest,"
she heard Kemp exclaim.

Turning, she saw him bending toward Irene, his
arm round her shoulders, kissing her.


THAT Irene and Kemp should embrace and kiss at
the table Grace assumed to be the accepted procedure
at such parties. Kissing to the accompaniment of
cocktails was not without its piquancy, but the pic-
ture presented by Irene and Kemp she found unedi-
fying. Under the stimulus of alcohol Kemp and
Irene seemed to have thrown away the dignity with
which they had begun the party. Grace was not
without her experience of kissing, but her experiences
had been boy-and-girl transactions, all the sweeter for
their privacy. She wondered whether it might not be
necessary for Trenton to kiss her, but instead he re-

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 4 of 27)