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his left thumb there was a scar, almost imperceptible,
the result of a slash with a jack knife one day in the
Durland yard where he had taken her dare to bring
down a particular fine spray of blossoms from an
old cherry tree. In his anxiety to deliver it unbroken
on the bough he had cut himself. She remembered
her consternation at seeing the injury, his swaggering
attempt to belittle it; his submission to her ministra-
tions as she tied it up with a hankerchief. She was
twelve then; he sixteen. He saw the direction of her
eyes, lifted the hand and with a smile glanced at the
scar. She colored as she realized that he had read
her thoughts.

"That was centuries ago," he said. "We did use to
have good times in your back yard! Do you remem-
ber the day you tumbled out of the swing and broke
your arm? You didn't cry; you were a good little
sport." And then, his eyes meeting hers, "You're still
a mighty good sport!"

"If I never have anything worse than a broken arm
to cry over I'll be lucky," she answered evasively.


There was no excuse for lingering; he had expressed
his regret at her father's elimination from Cummings-
Durland, and it served no purpose to compare mem-
ories of the former friendly relation between the
young people of the two families, which were now
bound to recede to the vanishing point. But he
seemed in no haste to leave her. She on her side
was finding pleasurable sensations in the encounter.
He had been her first sweetheart, so recognized by the
other youngsters of the neighborhood, and they had
gone to the same dancing class. And he had kissed
her once, shyly, on a night when the Cummingses
were giving a children's party. This had occurred on
a dark corner of the veranda. It had never
been repeated or referred to between them, but
the memory of it was not without its sweetness. She
was ashamed of herself for remembering it now. She
wondered whether he too remembered it. And there
had been those later attentions after the Cummingses
had moved away that had encouraged hopes in her
own breast not less than in her mother's that Bob's
early preference might survive the shock of the Cum-
mingses' translation to the fashionable district, with
its inevitable change of social orientation.

Ethel and her mother had questioned the happi-
ness of his marriage, and her mind played upon this
as she sat beside him, feeling the charm he had al-
ways had for her and wondering a little about the
girl he had married whom she had never seen and
knew of only from the talk at home. But two years
was not long enough; it was ridiculous to assume that
he wasn't happy with his wife.

"We certainly had a lot of fun over there," he was
saying. "I suppose the park fountain plays just the
same and the kids still sail their boats in the pond."

"Yes, and go wading and fall in and have to be fished


out by the policeman! But we can't be kids always,

"No; that's the worst of it!" he said with a tinge of

"I'm all grown up now and have a job. I'm a work-
ing girl!"

"No!" he exclaimed incredulously. "And Roy "

"Oh, Roy's to finish his law course; he'll be through
in June."

"That's too bad, Grace!" he exclaimed. "It's you
who ought to have stayed on! You're the very type of
girl who ought to go to college. It would have made
all the difference in the world to you! And Ethel
is she at work too?"

"Yes; she's in an insurance office and I'm in Ship-
ley's!" she went on smiling to relieve his evident dis-
comfiture. "I'm in the ready-to-wear and I'll appre-
ciate any customers you send my way. Call for Num-
ber Eighteen!"

"Why, Grace! You don't mean it! You have no
business doing a thing like that. You could do a lot

"Well, I didn't just see it. I'm an unskilled laborer
and haven't time to fit myself for teaching, stenog-
raphy or anything like that. You get results quicker
in a place like Shipley's. That is, I hope to get them
if I'm as intelligent as I think I am!"

"I'm terribly sorry, Grace. I feel I feel as
though we were responsible, father and I; and we are,
of course. There ought to have been some other way
for you; something more "

"Please don't! That's the way mother and Ethel

She rose quickly, feeling that nothing was to be
gained by continuing the discussion of matters that


were irrevocably settled. And, moreover, his distress
was so manifest in his face that she feared the scrutiny
of passersby.

"Good-bye, Bob," she said. "I'm awfully glad I
met you. Please don't trouble at all about what can't
be helped. I haven't any hard feeling not the slight-

"I don't like it at all," he said impatiently.

He kept beside her to the entrance, where she gave
him a nod and smile and hurried away. She was
troubled at once for fear she hadn't expressed cordi-
ally enough her appreciation of his sympathy. Very
likely they would never meet again; there was no
reason why they should. He had merely done what
was perfectly natural in view of their old friendship,
made it clear that he was sorry her father had been
thrust out of the company of which he had been one
of the founders. She was unable to see anything in
the interview beyond a wish on his part to be kind, to
set himself right. And it was like Bob to do that.


The strong romantic strain in her was quickened by
the meeting. All afternoon her thoughts played about
Bob Cummings. She reviewed their associations in
childhood on through those last attentions after the
Cummingses left the Military Park neighborhood.
Her mother had probably been right in saying that if
fortune hadn't borne the Cummingses steadily upward,
leaving the Durlands behind, Bob might have married
her. It had been a mistake for him to marry a society
girl who was, she surmised, incapable of appreciating
his temperament. A matter of propinquity very
likely; she had heard that the girl was not rich but


belonged to one of the old families; and very likely on
her side it had been an advantageous arrangement.

Why did men marry the wrong women? she asked
herself with proneness of youth to propound and
answer unanswerable questions. There was Tren-
ton, who had so frankly admitted the failure of
his own marriage and with equal frankness took the
burden of his failure upon himself. No two men could
be more utterly unlike than Ward Trenton and
Bob Cummings, and she busied herself contrasting
them. Trenton was practical-minded; Bob a dreamer,
and save for his college experiences the range of his
life had been narrow. If both were free which would
she choose? So great was her preoccupation with
these speculations that her work suffered; through
sheer inattention she let a promising customer escape
without making a purchase.

In the afternoon distribution of mail she received
a letter from Trenton. It began, "Dear Grace" and

"I expected to see you again this week that is, of
course, if you'd be willing; but I'm called to Kansas
City unexpectedly and may not touch your port for
ten days or so. I'm not conceited enough to assume
that you will be grief-stricken over my delay, and
strictly speaking there's no excuse for writing except
that you've rather haunted me, a welcome ghost, I
assure you! I talked far too much about myself the
other night. One matter I shouldn't have spoken of at
all. No question of confidence in you or anything of
that sort. But it's something I never discuss even
with old and intimate friends. You have guessed what
I mean. Bad taste, you probably thought it. It was
quite that! I want you to think as well of me as you
can. I'm counting very much on seeing you again.


I hope you are well and happy and that nothing has
happened to your eyes since I saw them last!"

This was all except that he named a Kansas City
club where he could be reached for the next week if
she felt moved to write. She hadn't expected to hear
from him and the note was a distinct surprise. At
every opportunity she reread it, and, catching her in
the act, Irene teased her about it.

"Oh, you've started something! I'll wager he
signed his name in full; that's just like him. Tommy
never writes to me and when he wires he signs an
assumed name. But Ward Trenton's different. I
think if he decided to commit murder he'd send his
own account of it to the papers. He didn't talk to
you about his wife, I suppose, when Tommy and I
left you alone so long at The Shack? Tommy's known
him for years but he says he wouldn't think of men-
tioning his wife to him. I'd like to see Ward in love!
These quiet ones go strong when they get started."

"Oh, his letter's just a little friendly jolly. He's had
to go to Kansas City instead of coming back here
right away."

"Of course he just had to explain that I" Irene
laughed. "I can see this is going to be a real case.
See what you can do with that woman just coming in.
She looks as though she might really have some of
the mazuma."

It was not so easy as Grace had imagined in her
spiritual ardor of Sunday to begin retreating from
Irene. She realized that Irene would hardly listen in
an amiable spirit to the warning she had thought in her
hours of contrition it was her duty to give her friend.
Irene's serenity as she paced the aisles of the depart-
ment, her friendliness and unfailing good humor were
all disarming. Irene wasn't so bad perhaps; Grace


was much more tolerant of Irene than she had thought
on Sunday would ever be possible again.

The letter from Ward Trenton had the effect of re-
opening a door which Grace had believed closed and
the key thrown away. She found herself wondering
whether he might not always write to girls he met
and liked; and yet as his image appeared before her
and he lived vividly in her thoughts she accepted as
sincere his statement that he had broken an estab-
lished reserve in talking of his wife. This of course
was what he referred to; and she saw a fine nobility
in his apprehension lest the recipient of his confidences
might think the less of him for mentioning his wife
at all.

Grace was again tormented by curiosity as to
whether Trenton still loved his wife and the hope that
he did not. She hated herself for this; hated herself
for having lost her grip upon the good resolutions of
Sunday to forget the whole episode of Kemp's party.
She knew enough of the mind's processes to indulge
in what she fancied was a rigid self-analysis. She
wondered whether she was really a normal being,
whether other girls' thoughts ran riot about men as
hers did; whether there might not be something vulgar
and base in her nature that caused her within a few
hours to tolerate the thought of two men, both mar-
ried, as potential lovers. . . .

It occurred to her that she might too effectually
have burned her bridges when she left the university.
There were young men she had known during her two
years in Bloomington whose interest she might have
kept alive; among them there were a number of sons
of well-to-do families in country towns. But she was
unable to visualize herself married and settled in a


small town with her prospect of seeing and knowing
the world limited by a husband's means or ambition.
There were one or two young professors who had paid
her attentions. One of them, a widower and a man
of substantial attainments, had asked her to marry
him, but she was unable to see herself a professor's
wife, beset by all the uncertainties of the teaching

She had always been used to admiration, but until
now she had heavily discounted all the compliments
that were paid her good looks. She fpund herself
covertly looking into the mirrors as she passed.
Trenton had been all over the world and no
doubt had seen many beautiful women; and yet he
wrote that she haunted him, which could only mean
that he was unable to escape from the thought of her.
Again, deeply humble, she scouted the idea that he
could have fallen hi love with her; he was only a little
sorry for her, thinking of her probably as a rather
nice girl who was to be pitied because she had to
work for her living.

He had spoken of being lonely. Maybe it was only
for lack of anything better to do that he fell to think-
ing of her as he sat in the club in St. Louis and wrote
to her out of his craving for sympathy. At twenty-
one Grace did not know that the only being in the
world who is more dangerous than a lonely woman
is a lonely man.

Grace was correct in her assumption that Ward
Trenton had written her in a fit of loneliness but she


did not know that in the same hour he had written
also to his wife. After a few sentences explaining his
presence in St. Louis, the letter to Mrs. Trenton ran:

"It's almost ridiculous, the distinctly separate lives
we lead. I was just studying the calendar and find
that we haven't met for exactly six months. When
I'm at home if I may so refer to the house in Pitts-
burgh that fixes my voting place and pardon me!
doesn't fix much of anything else I occasionally find
traces of your visits. I must say the servants do
pretty well considering that they go their own gait.
You're a wonderful housekeeper at long range 1 But
I'm not kicking. The gods must have their will with

"I read of you in the newspapers frequently and
judge that you're living the life that suits you best.
I found a copy of your "Clues to a New Social Order"
on the new book table here in the club library and re-
read parts of it. It never ceases to tickle me that a
woman of your upbringing, with your line of blue-
nosed New England ancestors, should want to pull
down the pillars of society. I marvel at you I . . .

"You've asked me now and then not to be afraid
to tell you if ever I ran into a woman who interested
me particularly. I haven't had anything to report till
now. But the other night I met a girl, she's prob-
ably just crossing the line into the twenties, an in-
teresting, provocative young person. She represents
in a mild degree the new order of things you're so
mad about; going to live her own life; marriage not
in the sketch. She's a salesgirl in a big shop, but
her people have known better days and she went half-
way through college. She's standing with reluctant
feet where the brook and river meet, but I'm afraid


won't be satisfied to play in the brook; she's keen for
the deeper waters. She's as handsome as a goddess.
She kissed me very prettily her own idea I assure
you! The remembrance of this incident is not wholly
displeasing to me; it was quite spontaneous; filial
perhaps. . . .

"Those bonds you have in the Ashawana Water
Power Company are all right. I had a look at the
plant recently and the dividends are sure. . . ."

Having sealed and addressed the envelopes Tren-
ton laid them side by side on the blotter before him,
lighted a cigarette, and then drew out and opened the
locket that Grace had noted at The Shack, studying
the woman's face within a little wistfully. Then with
a sigh he thrust it into his pocket and went out into
the night and tramped the streets, coming at last to
the post office where he mailed both letters.


Grace set off with the liveliest 'expectations to keep
her appointment with Miss Reynolds. The house
struck her at once as a true expression of the taste
and characteristics of its owner. It was severely
simple in design and furnishing, but with adequate
provision for comfort. Grace had seen pictures of
such rooms in magazines and knew that they repre-
sented the newest idteas in house decoration. The
neutral tint of the walls was an ease to eye and spirit.
Ethel had spoken of Miss Reynolds as quaint, an
absurd term to apply either to the little woman or any
of her belongings. She was very much up to date,
even a little ahead of the procession, it seemed to


"Oh, thank you! I'm glad if it seems nice," Miss
Reynolds replied when Grace praised the house. "All
my life I've lived in houses where everything was old
and the furniture so heavy you had to get a derrick
to move it on cleaning day. But I can't accept praise
for anything here. The house was built for a family
that moved away from town without occupying it.
The young architect who designed it had ideas about
how it ought to be fixed up and I turned him loose.
There was a music room, so I had to get a grand piano
to fit into the alcove made for it. That young man is
most advanced and I thought at first he wouldn't let
me have any place to sit down but you see he did allow
me a few chairs! Are you freezing? I hate an over-
heated house."

"I'm perfectly comfortable," said Grace, noting
that Miss Reynolds wore the skirt of the blue suit
she had sold her, with a plain white waist and a loose
collar. Her snow white hair was brushed back loosely
from her forehead. Her head was finely modeled and
her face, aglow from an afternoon tramp in the No-
vember air, still preserved the roundness of youth.
The wrinkles perceptible about her eyes and mouth
seemed out of place, only tentative tracings, not the
indelible markings of age. She had an odd little way
of turning her head to one side when listening, and
mistaking this for a sign of deafness Grace had lifted
her voice slightly.

"Now, my dear child!" cried Miss Reynolds, "just
because I cock my head like a robin don't think I'm
shy of hearing. It always amuses me to have people
take it for granted that I can't hear. I hear every-
thing; I sometimes wish I didn't hear so much! I've
always had that trick. It's because one of my eyes is
a bit stronger than the other. You'll find that I


don't do it when I wear my glasses, but I usually take
them off in the house."

At the table Miss Reynolds rambled on as though
Grace were an old friend.

"Our old house down on Meridian Street was sold
while I was abroad. It had grown to be a dingy hole.
Garret full of trunks of letters and rubbish like that.
I cabled at once to sell or destroy everything in the
place. So that's why I'm able to have a new deal.
Are you crazy about old furniture? Please tell me
you are not?

"Oh, I like new things ever so much better!" Grace
assured her.

"I thought you would. I despise old furniture. Old
stuff of every kind. Old people too!" With a smile
on her lips she watched Grace to note the effect of
this speech. "I shouldn't have dreamed of asking you
to give up an evening for me if I meant to talk to you
like an old woman. My neighbors are mostly young
married people, but they don't seem to mind my set-
tling among them. I'm sixty-two; hurry and say I
don't look a day over fifty!"

"Forty!" Grace corrected.

"I knew I was going to like you! I think I'll
spend my remaining years here if I can keep away
from people who want to talk about old times, mean-
ing of course when I was a girl. It doesn't thrill me
at all to know that right here where this house stands
my grandfather owned a farm. Every time I go
down town I dodge old citizens I've known all my
life for fear they'll tell me about the great changes
and expect me to get tearful about it. I can't mourn
over the passing of old landmarks and I'd certainly not
weep at the removal of some of the old fossils around
this town who count all their money every day to


make sure nobody's got a nickel away from them.
They keep their lawyers busy tightening up their
wills. They've invented ways of tying up property in
trusts so you can almost take it with you I"

"That's their way of enjoying life, I suppose," re-
marked Grace, who was taking advantage of Miss
Reynolds' talkativeness to do full justice to a sub-
stantial dinner. The filet of beef and the fresh mush-
rooms testified to the presence of an artist in the
kitchen, and the hot rolls were of superlative light-
ness. Miss Reynolds paused occasionally to urge
Grace to a second helping of everything offered.

"I detest anemic people," Miss Reynolds declared.
"If you don't eat my food I'll feel terribly guilty at
asking you here."

"It's the best food I ever atel We were going to
have corned beef and cabbage at home, so all these
wonderful dishes seem heavenly!"

"You've probably wondered why I grabbed you as
I did and asked you to sit at meat with me?"

"Why, I hope you asked me because you liked mel"
Grace answered.

"That's the correct answer, Grace may I call you
Grace? I hate having a lot of people around; I like
to concentrate on one person, and when I met you in
the church entry it just popped into my head that
you wouldn't mind a bit giving me an evening. It's
awfully tiresome going to dinners where the people
are all my own age. I've always hated formal en-
tertaining. You struck me as a very fair representa-
tive of the new generation that appeals to me so
much. Don't look so startled; I mean that, my dear,
as a compliment! And of course I really don't know
a thing about you except that you have very pretty
manners and didn't get vexed that day in the store


when I must have frightened you out of your wits."

"But you didn't," Grace protested. "I liked your
way of saying exactly what you wanted."

"I always try to do that; it saves a lot of bother.
And please don't be offended if I say that it's a joy
to see you sitting right there looking so charming.
You have charming ways; of course you know that.
And the effect is much enhanced when you blush that

Grace was very charming indeed as she smiled at
her singular hostess, who had a distinct charm of her
own. She felt that she could say anything to Miss
Reynolds and with girlish enthusiasm she promptly
told her that she was adorable.

"I've been called a crank by experts," Miss Rey-
nolds said challengingly, as though she were daring her
guest to refute the statement. "I get along better
with foreigners than with my own people. Over there
they attribute my indiosyncrasies to American crude-
ness, to be tolerated only because they think me much
better off in worldly goods than I really am."

They remained at the table for coffee, and the wait-
ress who had served the dinner offered cigarettes.
Grace shook her head and experienced a mild shock
when Miss Reynolds took a cigarette and lighted it
with the greatest unconcern.

"Abominable habit! Got in the way of it while I
was abroad. Please don't let me corrupt youl"

"I suppose I'll learn in time," Grace replied, amused
as she remembered the stress her mother and Ethel
had laid on Miss Reynolds' conservatism.

It occurred to her that Miss Reynolds was entitled
to know something of her history and she recited the
facts of her life simply and straightforwardly. She
had only said that her father had been unfortunate


without explaining his connection with Cummings-
Durland. Miss Reynolds smoked and sipped her
coffee in silence; then asked in her quick fashion:

"Cummings-Durland? Those names tinkle together
away back in my memory."

"Father and Mr. Cummings came here from
Rangerton and began business together. The Cum-
mingses used to live neighbors to us over by Military

"Bob Cummings is one of my neighbors," said Miss
Reynolds. "Rather tragic putting that young man
into business. He hates it. There ought to be some
way of protecting artistic young men from fathers
who try to fit square pegs into round holes. I suppose
the business troubles broke up the friendship of your

"Yes; my mother and sister are very bitter about
it; they think father was unfairly treated. But I met
Bob only this morning and he was very friendly. He
seemed terribly cut up because I'd left college."

"He's a sensitive fellow; he would feel it," said
Miss Reynolds. "So you children grew up together
the Durlands and the Cummings. I'm asking about
your present relations because Bob comes in occa-
sionally to play my piano when there's something
on at his own house that he doesn't like. His wife's
the sort that just can't be quiet; must have people
around. She's crazy about bridge and he isn't! He
called me on the telephone just before you came to ask
if he might come over after dinner, as his wife's having
people in for bridge. I told him to come along. I
enjoy his playing; he really plays very well indeed.
You don't mind?"

"Not at all," said Grace, wondering at the fate that
was throwing her in Bob Cummings' way twice in one


day and a day in which she had been torn with so
many conflicting emotions.

"If you have the slightest feeling about meeting him

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 9 of 27)