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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team



Author's Note

The music which appears in the following pages is from an unpublished
piano arrangement, by Grant Weber, of Wilson G. Smith's
"Entreaty," published by G. Schirmer, New York.




























[Illustration: Musical Notation]

The last hushed chord died into silence, but the woman lingered,
dreaming over the keys. Firelight from the end of the room brought red-
gold gleams into the dusky softness of her hair and shadowed her profile
upon the opposite wall. No answering flash of jewels met the questioning
light - there was only a mellow glow from the necklace of tourmalines,
quaintly set, that lay upon the white lace of her gown.

She turned her face toward the fire as a flower seeks the sun, but her
deep eyes looked beyond it, into the fires of Life itself. A haunting
sense of unfulfilment stirred her to vague resentment, and she sighed as
she rose and moved restlessly about the room. She lighted the tall
candles that stood upon the mantel-shelf, straightened a rug, moved a
chair, and gathered up a handful of fallen rose-petals on her way to the
window. She was about to draw down the shade, but, instead, her hand
dropped slowly to her side, her fingers unclasped, and the crushed
crimson petals fluttered to the floor.

Outside, the purple dusk of Winter twilight lay soft upon the snow.
Through an opening in the evergreens the far horizon, grey as mother-of-
pearl, bent down to touch the plain in a misty line that was definite
yet not clear. At the left were the mountains, cold and calm, veiled by
distances dim with frost.

There was a step upon the stair, but the strong, straight figure in
white lace did not turn away from the window, even when the door opened.
The stillness was broken only by the cheerful crackle of the fire until
a sweet voice asked:

"Are you dreaming, Rose?"

Rose turned away from the window then, with a laugh. "Why, I must have
been. Will you have this chair, Aunt Francesca?"

She turned a high-backed rocker toward the fire and Madame Bernard
leaned back luxuriously, stretching her tiny feet to the blaze. She wore
grey satin slippers with high French heels and silver buckles. A bit of
grey silk stocking was visible between the buckle and the hem of her
grey gown.

Rose smiled at her in affectionate appreciation. The little old lady
seemed like a bit of Dresden china; she was so dainty and so frail. Her
hair was lustreless, snowy white, and beautifully, though simply,
dressed in a bygone fashion. Her blue eyes were so deep in colour as to
seem almost purple in certain lights, and the years had been kind to
her, leaving few lines. Her hands, resting on the arms of her chair, had
not lost their youthful contour, but around her eyes and the corners of
her mouth were the faint prints of many smiles.

"Rose," said Madame Bernard, suddenly, "you are very lovely to-night."

"I was thinking the same of you," responded the younger woman, flushing.
"Shall we organise ourselves into a mutual admiration society?"

"We might as well, I think. There seems to be nobody else."

A shadow crossed Rose's face and her beauty took on an appealing
wistfulness. She had been sheltered always and she hungered for Life as
the sheltered often do. Madame Bernard, for the thousandth time, looked
at her curiously. From the shapely foot that tapped restlessly on the
rug beneath her white lace gown, to the crown of dusky hair with red-
gold lights in it, Rose was made for love - and Madame wondered how she
had happened to miss it.

"Aunt Francesca," said Rose, with a whimsical sadness, "do you realise
that I'm forty to-day?"

"That's nothing," returned the other, serenely. "Everybody has been
forty, or will be, if they live."

"I haven't lived yet," Rose objected. "I've only been alive."

"'While there's life there's hope,'" quoted Madame lightly. "What do you
want, dear child? Battle, murder, and sudden death?"

"I don't know what I want."

"Let's take an inventory and see if we can find out. You have one
priceless blessing - good health. You have considerably more than your
share of good looks. Likewise a suitable wardrobe; not many clothes, but
few, and those few, good. Clothes are supposed to please and satisfy
women. You have musical talent, a love of books and flowers, a fine
appreciation of beauty, a host of friends, and that one supreme gift of
the gods - a sense of humour. In addition to all this, you have a
comfortable home and an income of your own that enables you to do
practically as you please. Could you ask for more?"

"Not while I have you, Aunt Francesca. I suppose I'm horrid."

"You couldn't be, my dear. I've left marriage out of the question,
since, if you'd had any deep longing for it, you'd have chosen some one
from the horde that has infested my house for fifteen years and more.
You've surely been loved."

Rose smiled and bit her lip. "I think that's it," she murmured. "I've
never cared for anybody - like that. At least, I don't think I have."

"'When in doubt, don't,'" resumed the other, taking refuge in a
platitude. "Is there any one of that faithful procession whom you
particularly regret?"

"No," answered Rose, truthfully.

"Love is like a vaccination," continued the little lady in grey, with
seeming irrelevance. "When it takes, you don't have to be told."

Her tone was light, almost flippant, and Rose, in her turn, wondered at
the woman and her marvellous self-control. At twenty-five, Madame
Bernard married a young French soldier, who had chosen to serve his
adopted country in the War of the Rebellion. In less than three months,
her gallant Captain was brought home to her - dead.

For a long time, she hovered uncertainly between life and death. Then,
one day, she sat up and asked for a mirror. The ghost of her former self
looked back at her, for her colour was gone, her hair was quickly
turning grey, and the light had vanished from her eyes. Yet the valiant
spirit was not broken, and that day, with high resolve, she sent her
soul forward upon the new way.

"He was a soldier," she said, "and I, his wife, will be a soldier too.
He faced Death bravely and I shall meet Life with as much courage as God
will give me. But do not, oh, do not even speak his name to me, or I
shall forget I am a soldier and become a woman again."

So, gradually, it became understood that the young soldier's name was
not to be mentioned to his widow. She took up her burden and went on,
devoting herself to the army service until the war was over. Then she
ceased to labour with lint and bandages and betook herself to new
surroundings. Her husband's brother offered her a home, but she was
unable to accept, for the two men looked so much alike that she could
not have borne it. Sometimes, even now, she turned away in pain from
Rose, who resembled her father.

"'Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,'" Madame Bernard was saying. "I
seem to run to conversational antiques tonight. 'Doctor, lawyer,
merchant, chief - ' which will you have, Rose? If I remember rightly,
you've had all but the thief already. Shall I get you a nice embezzler,
or will a plain burglar do?"

"Neither," laughed Rose. "I'm safe from embezzlers, I think, but I live
in nightly fear of being burgled, as you well know."

"None the less, we've got to take the risk. Isabel will not be contented
with you and me. She'll want other hats on the rack besides the
prehistoric relic we keep there as a warning to burglars."

"I'd forgotten Isabel," answered Rose, with a start. "What is she

"Dressing for dinner. My dear, that child brought three trunks with her
and I understand another is coming. She has enough clothes to set up a
modest shop, should she desire to 'go into trade' as the English say."

"I'd forgotten Isabel," said Rose, again. "We must find some callow
youths to amuse her. A girl of twenty can't appreciate a real man."

"Sometimes a girl of forty can't, either," laughed Madame, with a sly
glance at Rose. "Cheer up, my dear - I'm nearing seventy, and I assure
you that forty is really very young."

"It's scarcely infantile, but I'll admit that I'm young - comparatively."

"All things are comparative in this world, and perhaps you and Isabel,
with your attendant swains, may enable me to forget that I'm no longer
young, even comparatively."

The guest came in, somewhat shyly. She was a cousin of Rose's, on the
mother's side, and had arrived only that afternoon on a visit.

"Bless us," said Madame Bernard; "how pretty we are! Isabel, you're a
credit to the establishment."

Isabel smiled - a little, cool smile. She was almost as tall as Rose and
towered far above the little lady in grey who offered her a welcoming
hand and invited her to sit by the fire. Isabel's gown was turquoise
blue and very becoming, as her hair and eyes were dark and her skin was
fair. Her eyes were almost black and very brilliant; they literally
sparkled when she allowed herself to become interested in anything.

"I'm not late, am I?" she asked.

"No," answered Rose, glancing at the clock. "It's ten minutes to seven."

"I couldn't find my things. It was like dressing in a dream, when, as
soon as you find something you want, you immediately lose everything

"I know," laughed Rose. "I had occasion to pack a suit-case myself last
night, during my troubled slumbers."

A large yellow cat appeared mysteriously out of the shadows and came,
yawning, toward the fire. He sat down on the edge of Madame's grey gown,
and blinked.

Isabel drew her skirts away. "I don't like cats," she said.

"There are cats and cats," remarked Madame Bernard in a tone of gentle
rebuke. "Mr. Boffin is not an ordinary cat. He is a gentleman and a
scholar and he never forgets his manners."

"I've wondered, sometimes," said Rose, "whether he really knows
everything, or only pretends that he does. He looks very wise."

"Silence and reserve will give anyone a reputation for wisdom," Madame
responded. She bent down to stroke the yellow head, but, though Mr.
Boffin gratefully accepted the caress, he did not condescend to purr.
Presently he stalked away into the shadows, waving his yellow tail.

"What a lovely room this is," observed Isabel, after a pause.

"It's comfortable," replied Madame. "I couldn't live in an ugly place."

Everything in the room spoke eloquently of good taste, from the deep-
toned Eastern rug at the hearth to the pictures upon the grey-green
walls. There was not a false note anywhere in the subtle harmony of
line, colour, and fabric. It was the sort of room that one comes back
to, after long absence, with renewed appreciation.

"I love old mahogany," continued Isabel. "I suppose you've had this a
long, long time."

"No, it's new. To me - I mean. I have some beautiful old French mahogany,
but I don't use it."

Her voice was very low at the end of the sentence. She compressed her
lips tightly and, leaning forward, vigorously poked the fire. A stream
of sparks went up the chimney and quick flames leaped to follow.

"Don't set the house on fire, Aunt Francesca," cautioned Rose. "There's
the dinner gong."

The three went out, Madame Bernard a little ahead and the two younger
women together. Rose sat opposite the head of the table and Isabel was
placed at Madame's right. In a single glance, the guest noted that the
table was perfectly appointed. "Are you making company of me?" she

"Not at all," smiled Madame. "None the less, there is a clear
distinction between eating and dining and we endeavour to dine."

"If Aunt Francesca were on a desert island," said Rose, "I believe she
would make a grand affair of her solitary dinner, and have her coffee in
the morning before she rolled out of the sand."

The little old lady dimpled with pleasure. "I'd try to," she laughed. "I
think I'd - "

She was interrupted by a little exclamation of pleasure from Rose, who
had just discovered a small white parcel at her plate. She was untying
it with eager fingers, while her colour came and went. A card fluttered
out, face upward. "To my dear Rose, with love from Aunt Francesca," was
written in a small, quaint hand.

It was a single magnificent ruby set in a ring which exactly fitted.
Rose seldom wore rings and wondered, vaguely, how Aunt Francesca knew.

"I filled a finger of one of your gloves," said Madame, as though she
had read the thought, "and had it fitted. Simple, wasn't it?"

"Oh," breathed Rose, "it's beautiful beyond words! How shall I ever
thank you!"

"Wear it, dear. I'm so glad you're pleased!"

"It's lovely," said Isabel, but the tone was cold and she seemed to
speak with an effort. With a swift little stab at the heart, Rose saw
that the girl envied her the gift.

"It reconciles me to my years," Rose went on, quickly. "I'm willing to
be forty, if I can have a ring like this."

"Why, Cousin Rose!" cried Isabel, in astonishment. "Are you forty?"

"Yes, dear. Don't be conventional and tell me I don't look it, for I
feel it - every year."

"I should never have thought it," Isabel murmured.

Rose turned the ring slowly upon her finger and the ruby yielded the
deep crimson glow of its heart to the candlelight that softly filled the
room. "I've never had a ruby," she said, "and yet I feel, someway, as
though I'd always had this. It seems as if it belonged to me."

"That's because it suits you," nodded Madame Bernard. "I hope that
sometime our civilisation may reach such a point of advancement that
every woman will wear the clothes and jewels that suit her personality,
and make her home a proper setting for herself. See how women break
their hearts for diamonds - and not one woman in a hundred can wear

"Could I wear diamonds?" asked Isabel. She was interested now and her
eyes sparkled.

Madame Bernard studied her for a moment before replying. "Yes," she
admitted, "you could wear them beautifully, but they do not belong to
Rose, or to me."

"What else could I wear?"

"Turquoises, if they were set in silver."

"I have one," Isabel announced with satisfaction. "A lovely big
turquoise matrix set in dull silver. But I have no diamonds."

"They'll come," Rose assured her, "if you want them. I think people
usually get things if they want them badly enough."

Isabel turned to Madame Bernard. "What stones do you wear?" she
inquired, politely.

"Only amethysts," she laughed. "I have a pearl necklace, but it doesn't
quite 'belong,' so I don't wear it. I won't wear anything that doesn't

"How can you tell?"

"By instinct." "I can walk into a shop, look around for a moment, and
say: 'please bring me my hat.' The one I ask for is always the right
one. It is invariably becoming and suitable, and it's the same with
everything else."

"It's a wonderful experience to go shopping with Aunt Francesca," put in
Rose. "She knows what she wants and goes straight to it, without loss of
time. Utterly regardless of fashion, for its own sake, she always
contrives to be in the mode, though I believe that if hoop skirts were
suited to her, she'd have the courage of her crinoline, and wear one."

"Let us be thankful they're not," remarked Madame. "It's almost
impossible to believe it, but they must have looked well upon some
women. Every personality makes its own demand for harmony and it is
fascinating to me to observe strange people and plan for them their
houses and clothes and belongings. You can pick out, from a crowd, the
woman who would have a crayon portrait of herself upon an easel in her
parlour, and quite properly, too, since her nature demands it. After you
are experienced, you can identify the man who eats sugar and vinegar on
lettuce, and group those who keep parrots - or are capable of it."

The seventy years sat lightly upon Madame Francesca now. Her deep eyes
shone with inward amusement, and little smiles hovered unexpectedly
about the corners of her mouth. A faint pink tint, like a faded rose,
bloomed upon her cheeks. Rose watched her with adoring eyes, and
wondered whether any man in the world, after fifteen years of close
association, could be half so delightful.

Coffee was brought into the living-room, when they went back, preceded
by Mr. Boffin, emanating the dignified satisfaction of a cat who has
supped daintily upon chicken and cream. He sat down before the fire and
methodically washed his face.

"I believe I envy Mr. Boffin his perfect digestion," remarked Madame, as
she sipped her coffee from a Royal Canton cup. She and Rose stood for
half an hour after dinner, always.

Isabel finished her coffee and set the cup upon the table. She slipped
the Sheffield tray from under the embroidered doily and took it to the
light, where she leaned over it, studying the design. Rose thought that
the light from the tray was reflected upon the girl's face, she became
at once so brilliant, so sparkling.

"Speaking of harmony - " said Madame Bernard, in a low tone, glancing at
Rose and inclining her head toward Isabel.

"Yes," replied Isabel, returning the tray to its place; "it is a lovely
one, isn't it?"

Madame turned toward the window to hide a smile. Rose followed, and drew
the little grey lady into the circle of her strong arm.

"Dear Aunt Francesca!" she said softly. "I thank you so much!"

The older woman patted the hand that wore the ruby, then turned to
Isabel. "Come," she said, "and be glad you're indoors."

The three women stood at the wide window, looking out across the snow,
lighted only by the stars and a ghostly crescent of moon. The evergreens
were huddled closely together as though they kept each other warm.
Beyond, the mountains brooded in their eternal sleep, which riving
lightnings and vast, reverberating thunders were powerless to change.

Suddenly, across the purple darkness between the pale stars, flamed a
meteor - an uncharted voyager through infinite seas of space. It left a
trail of fire across the heavens, fading at last into luminous mist, the
colour of the stars. When the light had quite died out, Madame Bernard

"A passing soul," she sighed.

"A kiss," breathed Rose, dreamily.

"Star-dust!" laughed Isabel.



"Great news, my dears, great news!" cried Madame Bernard, gaily waving an
open letter as she came into the room where Rose was sewing and Isabel
experimenting with a new coiffure. "I'll give you three guesses!"

"Somebody coming for a visit?" asked Isabel.


"Somebody coming, but not for a visit?" queried Rose.

"You're getting warmer."

"How can anybody come, if not for a visit?" inquired Isabel, mildly
perplexed. "That is, unless it's a messenger?"

"The old Kent house is to be opened," said Madame, "and we're to open
it. At last we shall have neighbours!"

"How exciting," Rose answered. She did not wholly share the old lady's
pleasure, and wondered with a guilty consciousness of the long hours she
spent at her music, whether Aunt Francesca had been lonely.

"Listen, girls!" Madame's cheeks were pink with excitement as she sat
down with the letter, which had been written in Paris.


"'At last we are coming home - Allison and I. The boy has a fancy to see
Spring come again on his native heath, so we shall sail earlier than we
had otherwise planned.

"'I wonder, my dear friend, if I dare ask you to open the house for us?
I am so tired of hotels that I want to go straight back. You have the
keys and if you will engage the proper number of servants and see that
the place is made habitable, I shall be more than ever your debtor. I
will cable you when we start.

"'Trusting that all is well with you and yours and with many thanks,
believe me, my dear Madame,

"'Most faithfully yours,


"How like a man," smiled Rose. "That house has been closed for over ten
years, and he thinks there is nothing to be done but to unlock the front
door and engage two or three servants who may or may not be

"What an imposition!" Isabel said. "Aunt Francesca, didn't I meet
Allison Kent when I was here before?"

"I've forgotten."

"Don't you remember? Mother brought me here once when I was a little
tot. We stayed about a week and the roses were all in bloom. I can see
the garden now. Allison used to come over sometimes and tell me fairy
stories. He told me that the long, slender gold-trimmed bottles filled
with attar of roses came from the roots of the rose bushes - don't you
remember? And I pulled up rose bushes all over the garden to find out."

"Dear me, yes," smiled Aunt Francesca. "How time does fly!"

"You were very cross with Allison - that is, as cross as you ever could
be. It seemed so queer for you to be angry at him and not at me, for I
pulled up the bushes."

"You were sufficiently punished, Isabel. I believe the thorns hurt your
little hands, didn't they?"

"They certainly did," responded the girl, with a little shudder at the
recollection. "I have a scar still. That was - let me see - why, it was
fifteen years ago!"

"Just before I came to live with Aunt Francesca," said Rose. "You and
your mother went away the same day."

"Yes, we went in the morning," Isabel continued, "and you were to come
in the afternoon. I remember pleading with my mother to let me stay long
enough to see 'Cousin Wose.'"

"Fifteen years!" Madame repeated. "Allison went abroad, then, to study
the violin, and the house has been open only once since. Richard came
back for a Summer, to attend to some business, then returned to Europe.
How the time goes by!"

The letter fell to the floor and Francesca sat dreaming over the
interlude of years. Colonel Kent had been her husband's best friend, and
after the pitiless sword had cleaved her life asunder, had become hers.
At forty the Colonel had married a young and beautiful girl. A year
later Francesca had gone to him with streaming eyes, carrying his new-
born son in her arms, to tell him that his wife was dead.

Drawn together by sorrow, the two had been as dear to each other as
friends may be but seldom are. Though childless herself, Francesca had
some of the gifts of motherhood, and, at every step, she had aided and
counselled the Colonel in regard to his son, who had his mother's eyes
and bore his mother's name. Discerning the boy's talent, long before his
father suspected it, she had chosen the violin for him rather than the
piano, and had herself urged the Colonel to take him abroad for study
though the thought of separation caused her many a pang.

When the two sailed away, Francesca had found her heart strangely empty;
her busy hands strangely idle. But Life had taught her one great lesson,
and when one door of her heart was closed, she opened another, as
quickly as possible. So she sent for Rose, who was alone in the world,
and, for fifteen years, the two women had lived happily together.

As she sat there, thinking, some of her gay courage failed her. For the
moment her mask was off, and in the merciless sunlight, she looked old
and worn. Rose, looking at her with tender pity, marvelled at the
ignorance of man, in asking a frail little old lady to open and make
habitable, in less than a fortnight, a house of fifteen large rooms.

"Aunt Francesca," she said, "let me open the house. Tell me what you
want done, and Isabel and I will see to it."

"Certainly," agreed Isabel without enthusiasm. "We'll do it."

"No," Madame replied stubbornly. "He asked me to do it."

"He only meant for you to direct," said Rose. "You surely don't think he
meant you to do the scrubbing?"

Madame smiled at that, and yielded gracefully. "There must be infinite
scrubbing, after all these years. I believe I'll superintend operations
from here. Then, when it's all done, I'll go over and welcome them

"That is as it should be. Isabel and I will go over this afternoon, and

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedOld Rose and Silver → online text (page 1 of 17)