The Bent Twig
Part 6 out of 9
rigor; but she recognized it as an unexaggerated statement of the
facts. "You can't go home now, Sylvia--everybody would say you
couldn't stand seeing Molly's snatch at Felix successful. You really
must stay on to let people see that you are another kind of girl from
Molly, capable of impersonal interest in a man of Felix's brains."
Sylvia thought of making the obviously suitable remark that she
cared nothing about what people thought, but such a claim was so
preposterously untrue to her character that she could not bring the
words past her lips. As a matter of fact, she did care what people
thought. She always had! She always would! She remained silent,
looking fixedly out of the great, plate-glass window, across the
glorious sweep of blue mountain-slope and green valley commanded by
Mrs. Marshall-Smith's bedroom. She did not resemble the romantic
conception of a girl crossed in love. She looked very quiet, no paler
than usual, quite self-possessed. The only change a keen eye could
have noted was that now there was about her an atmosphere of slightly
rigid dignity, which had not been there before. She seemed less
No eyes could have been more keenly analytical than those of Mrs.
Marshall-Smith. She saw perfectly the new attribute, and realized
perfectly what a resolute stiffening of the will it signified. She
had never admired and loved Sylvia more, and being a person adept in
self-expression, she saturated her next speech with her admiration and
affection. "Of course, you know, my dear, that _I'm_ not one of the
herd. I know entirely that your feeling for Felix was just what mine
is--immense admiration for his taste and accomplishments. As a matter
of fact it was apparent to every one that, even in spite of all
Molly's money, if you'd really cared to ..."
Sylvia winced, actually and physically, at this speech, which brought
back to her with a sharp flick the egregiousness of her absurd
self-deception. What a simpleton she had been--what a little naive,
provincial simpleton! In spite of her high opinion of her own
cleverness and knowledge of people, how stupidly steeped she had
been in the childish, idiotic American tradition of entire
disinterestedness in the relations of men and women. It was another
instance of how betrayed she constantly was, in any manoeuver in
the actual world, by the fatuous idealism which had so colored her
youth--she vented her emotion in despising that idealism and thinking
of hard names to call it.
"... though of course you showed your intelligence by _not_ really
caring to," went on Mrs. Marshall-Smith; "it would have meant a
crippled life for both of you. Felix hasn't a cent more than he needs
for himself. If he was going to marry at all, he was forced to marry
carefully. Indeed, it has occurred to me that he may have thrown
himself into this, because he was in danger of losing his head over
you, and knew how fatal it would be. For you, you lovely thing of
great possibilities, you need a rich soil for _your_ roots, too, if
you're to bloom out as you ought to."
Sylvia, receiving this into a sore and raw consciousness, said to
herself with an embittered instinct for cynicism that she had never
heard more euphonious periphrases for selling yourself for money. For
that was what it came down to, she had told herself fiercely a great
many times during the night. Felix had sold himself for money as
outright as ever a woman of the streets had done.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, continuing steadily to talk (on the theory that
talking prevents too great concentration of thought), and making the
round of all the possible things to say, chanced at this moment upon
a qualification to this theory of Morrison's conduct which for an
instant caught Sylvia's attention, "--and then there's always the
possibility that even if you _had_ cared to--Molly might have been
too much for you, for both of you. She always has had just what she
wanted--and people who have, get the habit. I don't know if you've
noticed it, in the little you've seen of her, but it's very apparent
to me, knowing her from childhood up as I have, that there's a slight
coarseness of grain in Molly, when it's a question of getting what she
wants. I don't mean she's exactly horrid. Molly's a dear in her way,
and I'm very fond of her, of course. If she can get what she wants
_without_ walking over anybody's prostrate body, she'll go round.
But there's a directness, a brilliant lack of fine shades in Molly's
grab.... It makes one remember that her Montgomery grandfather had
firmness of purpose enough to raise himself from an ordinary Illinois
farmer to arbiter of the wheat pit. Such impossible old aunts--such
cousins--occasionally crop up still from the Montgomery connection.
But all with the same crude force. It's almost impossible for a
temperament like Felix's to contend with a nature like that."
Sylvia was struck by the reflection, but on turning it over she saw
in it only another reason for anger at Morrison. "You make your old
friend out as a very weak character," she said.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith's tolerant, clear view of the infirmities of
humanity was grieved by this fling of youthful severity. "Oh, my dear!
my dear! A young, beautiful, enormendously rich, tremendously enamored
girl? That's a combination! I don't think we need consider Felix
exactly weak for not having resisted!"
Sylvia thought she knew reasons for his not yielding, but she did not
care to discuss them, and said nothing.
"But whether," continued Mrs. Marshall-Smith, attempting delicately
to convey the only reflection supposed to be of comfort to a girl in
Sylvia's situation, "whether or not Molly will find after marriage
that even a very masterful and ruthless temperament may fail entirely
to possess and hold the things it has grabbed and carried off ..."
Sylvia repudiated the tacit conception that this would be a balm to
her. "Oh, I'm sure I hope they'll manage!" she said earnestly.
"Of course! Of course!" agreed Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "Who doesn't hope
so?" She paused, her loquacity run desperately thin. There was
the sound of a car, driving up to the front door. Sylvia rose in
apprehension. Her aunt motioned a reassurance. "I told Tojiko to tell
every one that we are not in--to anybody."
Helene came to the door on silent, felt-shod feet, a black-and-white
picture of well-trained servility. "Pardon, Madame, Tojiko says that
Mlle. Sommerville wishes to see Mlle. Sylvie."
Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked with considerable apprehension at her
niece. "You must get it over with some time, Sylvia. It'll be easier
here than with a lot of people staring at you both, and making nasty
speculations." Neither she nor Sylvia noticed that for an instant, in
her haste, she had quite dropped her careful pretension that Sylvia
could, of course, if she had really cared to....
Sylvia set her jaw, an action curiously visible under the smooth,
subtle modeling of her young cheeks. She said to Helene in a quiet
voice: "_Mais bien sur!_ Tell her we're not yet dressed, but if she
will give herself the trouble to come up...."
Helene nodded and retreated. Sylvia looked rather pale.
"You don't know what a joy your perfect French is to me, dear," said
Mrs. Marshall-Smith, still rapidly turning every peg in sight in an
endeavor to loosen tension; but no noticeable relaxation took place in
Sylvia. It did not seem to her at just that moment of great importance
that she could speak good French.
With desperate haste she was saying to herself, "At least Molly
doesn't know about anything. I told her I didn't care. She believed
me. I must go on pretending that I don't. But can I! But can I!"
Light, rapid steps came flying up the stairs and down the long hall.
"Sylvia! Sylvia!" Molly was evidently hesitating between doors.
"Here--this way--last door--Aunt Victoria's room!" called Sylvia, and
felt like a terror-stricken actor making a first public appearance,
enormously surprised, relieved, and heartened to find her usual voice
still with her. As Molly came flying into the room, she ran to meet
her. They fell into each other's arms with incoherent ejaculations
and, under the extremely appreciative eye of Mrs. Marshall-Smith,
kissed each other repeatedly.
"Oh, isn't she the dear!" cried Molly, shaking out amply to the breeze
a victor's easy generosity. "Isn't she the darlingest girl in the
world! She _understands_ so! When I saw how perfectly _sweet_ she was
the day Arnold and Judith announced their engagement, I said to myself
I wanted her to be the first person I spoke to about mine."
The approach of the inexorable necessity for her first words roused
Sylvia to an inspiration which struck out an almost visible spark
of admiration from her aunt. "You just count too much on my being
'queer,' Molly," she said playfully, pulling the other girl down
beside her, with an affectionate gesture. "How do _you_ know that I'm
not fearfully jealous of you? _Such_ a charmer as your fiance is!"
Molly laughed delightedly. "Isn't she wonderful--not to care a
bit--really!" she appealed to Sylvia's aunt. "How anybody _could_
resist Felix--but then she's so clever. She's wonderful!"
Sylvia, smiling, cordial, clear-eyed and bitter-hearted, thought that
she really was.
"But I can't talk about it here!" cried Molly restlessly. "I came to
carry Sylvia off. I can't sit still at home. I want to go ninety miles
an hour! I can't think straight unless I'm behind the steering-wheel.
Come along, Sylvia!"
Mrs. Marshall-Smith thereupon showed herself, for all her amenity and
grace, more of a match of Molly's force and energy than either Sylvia
or Morrison had been on a certain rather memorable occasion ten
days before. She opposed the simple irresistible obstacle of a flat
command. "Sylvia's _not_ going out in a car dressed in a lace-trimmed
negligee, with a boudoir cap on, whether you get what you want the
minute you want it or not, Molly Sommerville," she said with the
authoritative accent which had always quelled Arnold in his boyhood
(as long as he was within earshot). The method was effective now.
Molly laughed. Sylvia even made shift to laugh; and Helene was
summoned to put on the trim shirt-waist, the short cloth skirt and
close hat which Mrs. Marshall-Smith selected with care and the history
of which she detailed at length, so copiously that there was no
opportunity to speak of anything less innocuous. Her unusual interest
in the matter even caused her to accompany the girls to the head of
the stairs, still talking, and she called down to them finally as they
went out of the front door, "... it's the only way with Briggs--he's
simply incorrigible about delays--and yet nobody does skirts as he
does! You just have to tell him you _will not take it_, if he doesn't
get it done on time!"
Sylvia cast an understanding, grateful upward look at her aunt and
stepped into the car. So far it had gone better than she feared. But a
tete-a-tete with Molly, overflowing with the confidences of the newly
betrothed--she was not sure that she could get through with that with
Molly, however, seemed as little inclined to overflow as Sylvia to
have her. She talked of everything in the world except of Felix
Morrison; and it was not long before Sylvia's acuteness discovered
that she was not thinking of what she was saying. There passed through
her mind a wild, wretched notion that Molly might after all know--that
Felix might have been base enough to talk about her to Molly, that
Molly might be trying to "spare her." But this idea was instantly
rejected: Molly was not subtle enough to conceive of such a course,
and too headlong not to make a hundred blunders in carrying it out;
and besides, it would not explain her manner. She was abstracted
obviously for the simple reason that she had something on her mind,
something not altogether to her liking, judging from the uneasy color
which came and went in her face, by her rattling, senseless flow of
chatter, by her fidgeting, unnecessary adjustments of the mechanism of
Sylvia herself, in spite of her greater self-control, looked out upon
the world with nothing of her usual eager welcome. The personality of
the man they did not name hung between and around the two women like a
cloud. As they swept along rapidly, young, fair, well-fed, beautifully
dressed, in the costly, shining car, their clouded faces might to a
country eye have been visible proofs of the country dictum that "rich
city folks don't seem to get no good out'n their money and their
automobiles: always layin' their ears back and lookin' 'bout as
cheerful as a balky horse."
But the country eyes which at this moment fell on them were anything
but conscious of class differences. It was a desperate need which
reached out a gaunt claw and plucked at them when, high on the flank
of the mountain, as they swung around the corner of a densely wooded
road, they saw a wild-eyed man in overalls leap down from the bushes
and yell at them.
Sylvia was startled and her first impression was the natural feminine
one of fear--a lonely road, a strange man, excited, perhaps drunk--But
Molly, without an instant's hesitation, ground the car to a stop in a
cloud of dust. "What's the matter?" she shouted as the man sprang up
on the running-board. He was gasping, purple, utterly spent, and for
an instant could only beat the air with his hands. Then he broke out
in a hoarse shout--the sound in that quiet sylvan spot was like a
tocsin: "Fire! An awful fire! Hewitt's pine woods--up that road!" He
waved a wild, bare arm--his shirt-sleeve was torn to the shoulder. "Go
and git help. They need all the men they can git!"
He dropped from the running-board and ran back up the hill through the
bushes. They saw him lurch from one side to the other; he was still
exhausted from his dash down the mountain to the road; they heard the
bushes crash, saw them close behind him. He was gone.
Sylvia's eyes were still on the spot where he had disappeared when she
was thrown violently back against the seat in a great leap forward of
the car. She caught at the side, at her hat, and saw Molly's face. It
was transfigured. The brooding restlessness was gone as acrid smoke
goes when the clear flame leaps up.
"What are you doing?" shouted Sylvia.
"To get help," answered Molly, opening the throttle another notch.
The first staggering plunge over, the car settled down to a terrific
speed, purring softly its puissant vibrant song of illimitable
strength. "Hear her sing! Hear her sing!" cried Molly. In three
minutes from the time the man had left them, they tore into the
nearest village, two miles from the woods. It seemed that in those
three minutes Molly had not only run the car like a demon, but had
formed a plan. Slackening speed only long enough to waltz with the car
on a street-corner while she shouted an inquiry to a passer-by, she
followed the wave of his hand and flashed down a side-street to a
big brick building which proclaimed itself in a great sign, "Peabody
The car stopped. Molly sprang out and ran as though the car were a
rifle and she the bullet emerging from it. She ran into a large, ugly,
comfortable office, where several white-faced girls were lifting their
thin little fingers from typewriter keys to stare at the young woman
who burst through and in at a door marked "Manager."
"There's a fire on the mountain--a great fire in Hewitt's pine woods,"
she cried in a clear, peremptory voice that sounded like a young
captain leading a charge. "I can take nine men on my car. Will you
come with me and tell which men to go?"
A dignified, elderly man, with smooth, gray hair and a black alpaca
office coat, sat perfectly motionless behind his desk and stared at
her in a petrified silence. Molly stamped her foot. "There's not an
instant to lose," she said; "they need every man they can get."
"Who's the fire-warden of this township?" said the elderly man
foolishly, trying to assemble his wits.
Molly appeared visibly to propel him from his chair by her fury. "Oh,
they need help _NOW_!" she cried. "Come on! Come on!"
Then they stood together on the steps of the office. "Those men
unloading lumber over there could go," said the manager, "and I'll get
three more from the packing-rooms."
"Don't go yourself! Send somebody to get them!" commanded Molly. "You
go and telephone anybody in town who has a car. There'll be sure to be
one or two at the garage."
Sylvia gasped at the prodigy taking place before her eyes, the
masterful, keen-witted captain of men who emerged like a thunderbolt
from their Molly--Molly, the pretty little beauty of the summer
She had galvanized the elderly New Englander beside her out of his
first momentary apathy of stupefaction. He now put his own competent
hand to the helm and took command.
"Yes," he said, and with the word it was evident that he was aroused.
Over his shoulder, in a quiet voice that carried like the crack of a
gun: "Henderson, go get three men from the packing-room to go to a
forest-fire. Shut down the machinery. Get all the able-bodied men
ready in gangs of seven. Perkins, you 'phone Tim O'Keefe to bring my
car here at once. And get Pat's and Tom's and the two at the hotel."
"Tools?" said Molly.
He nodded and called out to the men advancing with a rush on the car:
"There are hoes and shovels inside the power-house door. Better take
some axes too."
In four minutes from the time they had entered the village (Sylvia had
her watch in her hand) they were flying back, the car packed with men
in overalls and clustered thick with others on the running-board. Back
of them the whistle of the factory shrieked a strident announcement of
disaster. Women and children ran to the doors to stare up and down,
to cry out, to look and with dismayed faces to see the great cloud of
gray smoke pouring up from the side of the mountain. There was no soul
in that village who did not know what a forest-fire meant.
Then in a flash the car had left the village and was rushing along the
dusty highroad, the huge, ominous pillar of smoke growing nearer. The
men stared up at it with sober faces. "Pretty hot fire!" said one
They reached the place where the man had yelled to them--ten minutes
exactly since they had left it. Molly turned the car into the steep
sandy side-road which led up the mountain. The men shouted out in
remonstrance, "Hey, lady! You can't git a car up there. We'll have to
walk the rest of the way. They don't never take cars there."
"This one is going up," sang out Molly gallantly, almost gaily,
opening the throttle to its fullest and going into second speed.
The sound of the laboring engine jarred loudly through all the still,
hot woods; the car shook and trembled under the strain on it. Molly
dropped into low. A cloud of evil-smelling blue gasoline smoke rose
up from the exhaust behind, but the car continued to advance. Rising
steadily, coughing and choking, up the cruelly steep grades,
bumping heavily down over the great water-bars, smoking, rattling,
quivering--the car continued to advance. A trickle of perspiration ran
down Molly's cheeks. The floor was hot under their feet, the smell of
hot oil pungent in their nostrils.
They were eight minutes from the main road now, and near the fire.
Over the trail hung a cloud of smoke, and, as they turned a corner and
came through this, they saw that they had arrived. Sylvia drew back
and crooked her arm over her eyes. She had never seen a forest fire
before. She came from the plain-country, where trees are almost
sacred, and her first feeling was of terror. But then she dropped her
arm and looked, and looked again at the glorious, awful sight which
was to furnish her with nightmares for months to come.
The fire was roaring down one side of the road towards them, and away
to the right was eating its furious, sulphurous way into the heart of
the forest. They stopped a hundred feet short, but the blare of heat
struck on their faces like a blow. Through the dense masses of smoke,
terrifying glimpses of fierce, clean flame; a resinous dead stump
burning like a torch; a great tree standing helpless like a martyr at
the stake, suddenly transformed into a frenzied pillar of fire....
Along the front of this whirlpool of flame toiled, with despairing
fury, four lean, powerful men. As they raised their blackened,
desperate faces and saw the car there, actually there, incredibly
there, black with its load of men, they gave a deep-throated shout of
relief, though they did not for an instant stop the frantic plying of
their picks and hoes. The nine men sprang out, their implements in
their hands, and dispersed along the fighting-line.
Molly backed the car around, the rear wheels churning up the sand, and
plunged down the hill into the smoke. Through the choking fumes of
this, Sylvia shouted at her, "Molly! Molly! You're _great_!" She felt
that she would always hear ringing in her ears that thrilling, hoarse
shout of relief.
Molly shouted in answer, "I could scream, I'm so happy!" And as they
plunged madly down the mountain road, she said: "Oh, Sylvia, you don't
know--I never was any use before--never once--never! I got the first
load of help there! How they shouted!"
At the junction of the side-road with the highway, a car was
discharging a load of men with rakes and picks. "_I_ took my car up!"
screamed Molly, leaning from the steering wheel but not slackening
speed as she tore past them.
The driver of the other car, a young man with the face of a fighting
Celt, flushed at the challenge and, motioning the men back into the
car, started up the sandy hill. Molly laughed aloud. "I never was so
happy in my life!" she said again.
Both girls had forgotten the existence of Felix Morrison.
They passed cars now, many of them, streaming south at breakneck
speed, full to overflowing with unsmiling men in working clothes,
bristling with long-handled implements. But as they fled down the
street to the factory they saw, waiting still, some twenty or more men
in overalls drawn up, ready, armed, resolute....
"How strong men are!" said Molly, gazing in ecstasy at this array of
factory hands. "I love them!" She added under her breath, "But _I_
take them there!"
While the men were swarming into the car, the gray-haired manager
came out to report, as though to an officer equal in command, "I've
telephoned to Ward and Howe's marble-works in Chitford," he said.
"They've sent down fifty men from there. About seventy-five have gone
from this village. I suppose all the farmers in that district are
there by this time."
"Will they ever stop it!" asked Sylvia despairingly, seeing wherever
she looked nothing but that ravening, fiery leap of the flames,
feeling that terrible hot breath on her cheek.
The question and accent brought the man for the first time to a
realization of the girls' youth and sex. He shifted to paternal
reassurance. "Oh yes, oh yes," he said, looking up the valley
appraisingly at the great volume of the smoke, "with a hundred and
fifty men there, almost at once, they'll have it under control before
long. Everything with a forest fire depends on getting help there
_quickly_. Ten men there almost at once do more than fifty men an hour
later. That's why your friend's promptness was so important. I guess
it might have been pretty bad if they'd had to wait for help till one
of them could have run to the village. A fire, a bad fire like that,
gets so in an hour that you can't stop it--can't stop it till it gets
out where you can plow a furrow around it. And that's a terrible place
for a fire up there. Lots of slash left."
Molly called over her shoulder to the men climbing on the car, "All
ready there?" and was off, a Valkyr with her load of heroes.
Once more the car toiled and agonized up the execrable sandy steepness
of the side-road; but in the twenty minutes since they had been there
the tide had turned. Sylvia was amazed at the total shifting of
values. Instead of four solitary workers, struggling wildly against
overwhelming odds, a long line of men, working with a disciplined,
orderly haste, stretched away into the woods. Imperious and savage,
the smoke and swift flames towered above them, leaping up into the
very sky, darkening the sun. Bent over their rakes, their eyes on the
ground, mere black specks against the raging glory of the fire, the
line of men, with an incessant monotonous haste, drew away the dry
leaves with their rakes, while others who followed them tore at the
earth with picks and hoes. It was impossible to believe that such
ant-labors could avail, but already, near the road, the fire had burnt
itself out, baffled by its microscopic assailants. As far as the girls
could see into the charred underbrush, a narrow, clean line of freshly
upturned earth marked where the fiercest of all the elements had
been vanquished by the humblest of all the tools of men. Bewildered,
Sylvia's eyes shifted from the toiling men to the distance, across the
blackened desolation near them, to where the fire still tossed its
wicked crest of flames defiantly into the forest. She heard, but
she did not believe the words of the men in the car, who cried out
expertly as they ran forward, "Oh, the worst's over. They're shutting
down on it." How could the worst be over, when there was still that
whirling horror of flame and smoke beyond them?
Just after the men had gone, exultant, relieved, the girls turned
their heads to the other side of the road, and there, very silent,
very secret and venomous, leaped and glittered a little ring of
flames. An hour before, it would have looked a pretty, harmless sight
to the two who now sat, stricken by horror into a momentary frozen
stillness. The flames licked at the dry leaves and playfully sprang up
into a clump of tall dry grass. The fire was running swiftly towards a
bunch of dead alders standing at the edge of the forest. Before it had
spread an inch further, the girls were upon it, screaming for help,
screaming as people in civilization seldom scream, with all their
lungs. With uplifted skirts they stamped and trod out, under swift and
fearless feet, the sinister, silent, yellow tongues. They snatched
branches of green leaves and beat fiercely at the enemy. It had been
so small a spot compared to the great desolation across the road, they
stamped out the flames so easily, that the girls expected with every
breath to see the last of it. To see it escape them, to see it
suddenly flare up where it had been dead, to see it appear behind
them while they were still fighting it in front, was like being in a
nightmare when effort is impossible. The ring widened with appalling,
with unbelievable rapidity. Sylvia could not think it possible that
anything outside a dream could have such devouring swiftness. She trod
and snatched and stamped and screamed, and wondered if she were indeed
Yet in an instant their screams had been heard, three or four
smoke-blackened fire-fighters from beyond the road ran forward with
rakes, and in a twinkling the danger was past. Its disappearance was
as incredible as its presence.
"Ain't that just like a fire in the woods?" said one of the men, an
elderly farmer. He drew a long, tremulous breath. "It's so tarnation
_quick_! It's either all over before you can ketch your breath, or
it's got beyond you for good." It evidently did not occur to him to
thank the girls for their part. They had only done what every one did
in an emergency, the best they could. He looked back at the burned
tract on the other side of the road and said: "They've got the best
of that all right, too. I jest heard 'em shoutin' that the men from
Chitford had worked round from the upper end. So they've got a ring
round it. Nothin' to do now but watch that it don't jump. My! 'Twas a
close call. I've been to a lot of fires in my day, but I d'know as I
ever see a _closeter_ call!"
"It can't be _over_!" cried Sylvia, looking at the lurid light across
the road. "Why, it isn't an hour since we--"
"Land! No, it ain't _over!_" he explained, scornful of her
inexperience. "They'll have to have a gang of men here watchin' it all
night--and maybe all tomorrow--'less we have some rain. But it won't
go no further than the fire-line, and as soon as there're men enough
to draw that all around, it's _got_ to stop!" He went on to his
companion, irritably, pressing his hand to his side: "There ain't no
use talkin', I got to quit fire-fightin'. My heart 'most gi'n out on
me in the hottest of that. And yit I'm only sixty!"
"It ain't no job for old folks," said the other bitterly. "If it had
ha' gone a hundred feet further that way, 'twould ha' been in where
Ed Hewitt's been lumberin', and if it had got into them dry tops and
brush--well, I guess 'twould ha' gone from here to Chitford village
before it stopped. And 'twouldn't ha' stopped there, neither!"
The old man said reflectively: "'Twas the first load of men did the
business. 'Twas nip and tuck down to the last foot if we could stop it
on that side. I tell you, ten minutes of that kind o' work takes about
ten years off'n a man's life. We'd just about gi'n up when we saw 'em
coming. I bet I won't be no gladder to see the pearly gates than I was
to see them men with hoes."
Molly turned a glowing, quivering face of pride on Sylvia, and then
looked past her shoulder with a startled expression into the eyes of
one of the fire-fighters, a tall, lean, stooping man, blackened
and briar-torn like the rest. "Why, Cousin Austin!" she cried with
vehement surprise, "what in the world--" In spite of his grime, she
gave him a hearty, astonished, affectionate kiss.
"I was just wondering," said the man, smiling indulgently down on her,
"how soon you'd recognize me, you little scatter-brain."
"I thought you were going to stick in Colorado all summer," said
"Well, I heard they were short of help at Austin Farm and I came on
to help get in the hay," said the man. Both he and Molly seemed to
consider this a humorous speech. Then, remembering Sylvia, Molly went
through a casual introduction. "This is my cousin--Austin Page--my
_favorite_ cousin! He's really awfully nice, though so plain to look
at." She went on, still astonished, "But how'd you get _here?_"
"Why, how does anybody in Vermont get to a forest fire?" he answered.
"We were out in the hayfield, saw the smoke, left the horses, grabbed
what tools we could find, and beat it through the woods. That's the
technique of the game up here."
"I didn't know your farm ran anywhere near here," said Molly.
"It isn't so terribly near. We came across lots tolerable fast. But
there's a little field, back up on the edge of the woods that isn't so
far. Grandfather used to raise potatoes there. I've got it into hay
now," he explained.
As they talked, the fire beyond them gave definite signs of yielding.
It had evidently been stopped on the far side and now advanced
nowhere, showed no longer a malign yellow crest, but only rolling
sullenly heavenward a diminishing cloud of smoke. The fire-fighters
began to straggle back across the burned tract towards the road, their
eyeballs gleaming white in their dark faces.
"Oh, they mustn't walk! I'll take them back--the darlings!" said
Molly, starting for her car. She was quite her usual brisk,
free-and-easy self now. "Cracky! I hope I've got gas enough. I've
certainly been going _some!_"
"Why don't you leave me here?" suggested Sylvia. "I'll walk home.
That'll leave room for one more."
"Oh, you can't do that!" protested Molly faintly, though she was
evidently at once struck with the plan. "How'd you find your way
home?" She turned to her cousin. "See here, Austin, why don't _you_
take Sylvia home? You ought to go anyhow and see Grandfather. Hell be
awfully hurt to think you're here and haven't been to see him." She
threw instantly into this just conceived idea the force which always
carried through her plans. "Do go! I feel so grateful to these men I
don't want one of them to walk a step!"
Sylvia had thought of a solitary walk, longing intensely for
isolation, and she did not at all welcome the suggestion of adapting
herself to a stranger. The stranger, on his part, looked a very
unchivalrous hesitation; but this proved to be only a doubt of
Sylvia's capacity as a walker.
"If you don't mind climbing a bit, I can take you over the gap between
Hemlock and Windward Mountain and make a bee-line for Lydford. It's
not an hour from here, that way, but it's ten miles around by the
road--and hot and dusty too."
"Can she _climb_!" ejaculated Molly scornfully, impatient to be off
with her men. "She went up to Prospect Rock in forty minutes."
She high-handedly assumed that everything was settled as she wished
it, and running towards the car, called with an easy geniality to the
group of men, starting down the road on foot, "Here, wait a minute,
folks, I'll take you back!"
She mounted the car, started the engine, waved her hand to the two
behind her, and was off.
The lean, stooping man looked dubiously at Sylvia. "You're sure you
don't mind a little climb?" he said.
"Oh no, I like it," she said listlessly. The moment for her was of
stale, wearied return to real life, to the actual world which she was
continually finding uglier than she hoped. The recollection of Felix
Morrison came back to her in a bitter tide.
"All ready?" asked her companion, mopping his forehead with a very
"All ready," she said and turned, with a hanging head, to follow him.
BETWEEN WINDWARD AND HEMLOCK MOUNTAINS
For a time as they plodded up the steep wood-road, overgrown with
ferns and rank grass, with dense green walls of beech and oak saplings
on either side, what few desultory remarks they exchanged related to
Molly, she being literally the only topic of common knowledge between
them. Sylvia, automatically responding to her deep-lying impulse to
give pleasure, to be pleasing, made an effort to overcome her somber
lassitude and spoke of Molly's miraculous competence in dealing with
the fire. Her companion said that of course Molly hadn't made all that
up out of her head on the spur of the moment. After spending every
summer of her life in Lydford, it would be surprising if so energetic
a child as Molly hadn't assimilated the Vermont formula for fighting
fire. "They always put for the nearest factory and get all hands out,"
he explained, adding meditatively, as he chewed on a twig: "All the
same, the incident shows what I've always maintained about Molly:
that she is, like 'most everybody, lamentably miscast. Molly's spirit
oughtn't to have taken up its abiding place in that highly ornamental
blond shell, condemned after a fashionable girl's education to
pendulum swings between Paris and New York and Lydford. It doesn't fit
for a cent. It ought to have for habitation a big, gaunt, powerful
man's body, and for occupation the running of a big factory." He
seemed to be philosophizing more to himself than to Sylvia, and beyond
a surprised look into his extremely grimy face, she made no comment.
She had taken for granted from the talk between him and Molly that he
was one of the "forceful, impossible Montgomery cousins," and had
cast her own first remarks in a tone calculated to fit in with
the supposititious dialect of such a person. But his voice, his
intonations, and his whimsical idea about Molly fitted in with the
conception of an "impossible" as little as with the actual visible
facts of his ragged shirt-sleeves and faded, earth-stained overalls.
They toiled upwards in silence for some moments, the man still chewing
on his birch-twig. He noticed her sidelong half-satirical glance at
it. "Don't you want one?" he asked, and gravely cut a long, slim rod
from one of the saplings in the green wall shutting them into the
road. As he gave it to her he explained, "It's the kind they make
birch beer of. You nip off the bark with your teeth. You'll like it."
Still more at sea as to what sort of person he might be, and now
fearing perhaps to wound him if he should turn out to be a very
unsophisticated one, Sylvia obediently set her teeth to the lustrous,
dark bark and tore off a bit, which gave out in her mouth a mild,
pleasant aromatic tang, woodsy and penetrating, unlike any other taste
she knew. "Good, isn't it?" said her companion simply.
She nodded, slowly awakening to a tepid curiosity about the individual
who strode beside her, lanky and powerful in his blue jeans. What an
odd circumstance, her trudging off through the woods thus with a guide
of whom she knew nothing except that he was Molly Sommerville's cousin
and worked a Vermont farm--and had certainly the dirtiest face she had
ever seen, with the exception of the coal-blackened stokers in the
power-house of the University. He spoke again, as though in answer
to what might naturally be in her mind: "At the top of the road it
crosses a brook, and I think a wash would be possible. I've a bit
of soap in my pocket that'll help--though it takes quite a lot of
scrubbing to get off fire-fighting grime." He looked pointedly down at
her as he talked.
Sylvia was so astonished that she dropped back through years of
carefully acquired self-consciousness into a moment of the stark
simplicity of childhood. "Why--is _my_ face dirty?" she cried out.
The man beside her apparently found the contrast between her looks and
the heartfelt sincerity of her question too much for him. He burst
into helpless laughter, though he was adroit enough to thrust forward
as a pretext, "The picture of my _own_ grime that I get from your
accent is tremendous!" But it was evidently not at his own joke that
he was laughing.
For an instant Sylvia hung poised very near to extreme annoyance.
Never since she had been grown up, had she appeared at such an absurd
disadvantage. But at once the mental picture of herself, making
inaudible carping strictures on her companion's sootiness and, all
unconscious, lifting to observe it a critical countenance as swart as
his own--the incongruity smote her deliciously, irresistibly! Sore
heart or not, black depression notwithstanding, she needs must laugh,
and having laughed, laugh again, laugh louder and longer, and finally,
like a child, laugh for the sake of laughing, till out through this
unexpected channel she discharged much of the stagnant bitterness
around her heart.
Her companion laughed with her. The still, sultry summer woods echoed
with the sound. "How human, how lusciously _human_!" he exclaimed.
"Neither of us thought that _he_ might be the blackened one!"
"Oh, mine _can't_ be as bad as yours!" gasped out Sylvia, but when
she rubbed a testing handkerchief on her cheek, she went off in fresh
peals at the sight of the resultant black smears.
"Don't, for Heaven's sake, waste that handkerchief," cautioned her
companion. "It's the only towel between us. Mine's impossible!" He
showed her the murky rag which was his own; and as they spoke, they
reached the top of the road, heard the sound of water, and stood
beside the brook.
He stepped across it, in one stride of his long legs, rolled up his
shirt-sleeves, took a book out of his pocket, laid it on a stone, and
knelt down. "I choose this for _my_ wash-basin," he said, indicating a
limpid pool paved with clean gray pebbles.
Sylvia answered in the same note of play, "This'll be mine." It lay
at the foot of a tiny waterfall, plashing with a tinkling note into
transparent shallows. She cast an idle glance on the book he had laid
down and read its title, "A History of the Institution of Property,"
and reflected that she had been right in thinking it had a
familiar-looking cover. She had dusted books with that sort of cover
all her life.
Molly's cousin produced from his overalls a small piece of yellow
kitchen-soap, which he broke into scrupulously exact halves and
presented with a grave flourish to Sylvia. "Now, go to it," he
exhorted her; "I bet I get a better wash than you."
Sylvia took off her hat, rolled up her sleeves, and began on vigorous
ablutions. She had laughed, yes, and heartily, but in her complicated
many-roomed heart a lively pique rubbed shoulders with her mirth, and
her merriment was tinctured with a liberal amount of the traditional
feminine horrified disgust at having been uncomely, at having
unconsciously been subjected to an indignity. She was determined that
no slightest stain should remain on her smooth, fine-textured skin.
She felt, as a pretty woman always feels, that her personality was
indissolubly connected with her looks, and it was a symbolic act which
she performed as she fiercely scrubbed her face with the yellow soap
till its acrid pungency blotted out for her the woodland aroma of
moist earth and green leaves. She dashed the cold water up on her
cheeks till the spattering drops gleamed like crystals on the crisp
waviness of her ruddy brown hair. She washed her hands and arms in the
icy mountain water till they were red with the cold, hot though the
day was. She was chilled, and raw with the crude astringency of the
soap, but she felt cleansed to the marrow of her bones, as though
there had been some mystic quality in this lustration in running
water, performed under the open sky. The racy, black-birch tang still
lingering on her tongue was a flavor quite in harmony with this
severely washed feeling. It was a taste notably clean.
She looked across the brook at her companion, now sitting back on his
heels, and saw that there had emerged from his grime a thin, tanned,
high-nosed face, topped by drab-colored hair of no great abundance and
lighted by a pair of extraordinarily clear, gray eyes. She perceived
no more in the face at that moment, because the man, as he looked up
at her, became nothing but a dazzled mirror from which was reflected
back to her the most flattering image of her own appearance. Almost
actually she saw herself as she appeared to him, a wood-nymph,
kneeling by the flowing water, vital, exquisite, strong, radiant in a
cool flush, her uncovered hair gleaming in a thousand loosened waves.
Like most comely women of intelligence Sylvia was intimately familiar
with every phase of her own looks, and she knew down to the last
blood-corpuscle that she had never looked better. But almost at once
came the stab that Felix Morrison was not the man who was looking at
her, and the heartsick recollection that he would never again be there
to see her. Her moment of honest joy in being lovely passed. She stood
up with a clouded face, soberly pulled down her sleeves, and picked up
"Oh, why don't you leave it off?" said the man across the brook.
"You'd be so much more comfortable!" She knew that he meant her hair
was too pretty to cover, and did not care what he meant. "All right,
I'll carry it," she assented indifferently.
He did not stir, gazing up at her frankly admiring. Sylvia made out,
from the impression he evidently now had of her, that her face had
really been very, very dirty; and at the recollection of that absurd
ascent of the mountain by those two black-faced, twig-chewing
individuals, a return of irrepressible laughter quivered on her lips.
Before his eyes, as swiftly, as unaccountably, as utterly as an April
day shifts its moods, she had changed from radiant, rosy wood-goddess
to saddened mortal and thence on into tricksy, laughing elf. He burst
out on her, "Who _are_ you, anyhow?"
She remembered with a start. "Why, that's so, Molly didn't mention my
name--isn't that like Molly! Why, I'm Sylvia Marshall,"
"You may be _named_ Sylvia Marshall!" he said, leaving an inference in
the air like incense.
"Well, yes, to be sure," rejoined Sylvia; "I heard somebody only the
other day say that an introduction was the quaintest of grotesques,
since people's names are the most--"
He applied a label with precision. "Oh, you know Morrison?"
She was startled at this abrupt emergence of the name which secretly
filled her mind and was aware with exasperation that she was blushing.
Her companion appeared not to notice this. He was attempting the
difficult feat of wiping his face on the upper part of his sleeve,
and said in the intervals of effort: "Well, you know _my_ name. Molly
didn't forget that."
"But _I_ did," Sylvia confessed. "I was so excited by the fire I never
noticed at all. I've been racking my brains to remember, all the way
For some reason the man seemed quite struck with this statement and
eyed her with keenness as he said: "Oh--really? Well, my name is
Austin Page." At the candid blankness of her face he showed a boyish
flash of white teeth in a tanned face. "Do you mean to say you've
never heard of me?"
"_Should_ I?" said Sylvia, with a graceful pretense of alarm. "Do you
write, or something? Lay it to my ignorance. It's immense."
He shook his head. He smiled down on her. She noticed now that his
eyes were very kind as well as clear and keen. "No, I don't write, or
anything. There's no reason why you should ever have heard of me. I
only thought--I thought possibly Molly or Uncle George might have
happened to mention me."
"I'm only on from the West for a visit," explained Sylvia. "I never
was in Lydford before. I don't know the people there."
"Well then, to avoid Morrison's strictures on introductions I'll add
to my name the information that I am thirty-two years old; a graduate
of Columbia University; that I have some property in Colorado which
gives me a great deal of trouble; and a farm with a wood lot in
Vermont which is the joy of my heart. I cannot endure politics; I
play the flute, like my eggs boiled three minutes, and admire George
His manoeuvers with his sleeve were so preposterous that Sylvia now
cried to him: "Oh, don't twist around that way. You'll give yourself
a crick in the neck. Here's my handkerchief. We were going to share
"And you," he went on gravely, wiping his face with the bit of
cambric, "are Sylvia Marshall, presumably Miss; you can laugh at a
joke on yourself; are not afraid to wash your face with kitchen soap;
and apparently are the only girl in the twentieth century who has not
a mirror and a powder-puff concealed about her person."
All approbation was sweet to Sylvia. She basked in this. "Oh, I'm
a Hottentot, a savage from the West, as I told you," she said
"You've been in Lydford long enough to hear Morrison hold forth on the
idiocies of social convention, the while he neatly manipulates them to
his own advantage."
Sylvia had dreaded having to speak of Morrison, but she was now
greatly encouraged by the entire success of her casual tone, as she
explained, "Oh, he's an old friend of my aunt's, and he's been at the
house a good deal." She ventured to try herself further, and inquired
with a bright look of interest, "What do you think of his engagement
to your cousin Molly?"
He was petrified with astonishment. "_Molly_ engaged to _Morrison_!"
he cried. "We can't be talking about the same people. I mean _Felix_
Morrison the critic."
She felt vindicated by his stupefaction and liked him for it. "Why,
yes; hadn't you heard?" she asked, with an assumption of herself
seeing nothing surprising in the news.
"No, I hadn't, and I can't believe it now!" he said, blinking his
eyes. "I never heard such an insane combination of names in my life."
He went on, "What under the _sun_ does Molly want of Morrison!"
Sylvia was vexed with him for this unexpected view. He was not so
discerning as she had thought. She turned away and picked up her hat.
"We ought to be going on," she said, and as they walked she answered,
"You don't seem to have a very high opinion of Mr. Morrison."
He protested with energy. "Oh yes, I have. Quite the contrary, I think
him one of the most remarkable men I know, and one of the finest. I
admire him immensely. I'd trust his taste sooner than I would my own."
To this handsome tribute Sylvia returned, smiling, "The inference is
that you don't think much of Molly."
"I _know_ Molly!" he said simply. "I've known her and loved her ever
since she was a hot-tempered, imperious little girl--which is all she
is now. Engaged ... and engaged to Morrison! It's a plain case of
schoolgirl infatuation!" He was lost in wonder, uneasy wonder it
seemed, for after a period of musing he brought out: "They'll cut each
other's throats inside six months. Or Molly'll cut her own. What under
the sun was her grandfather thinking of?"
Sylvia said gravely, "Girls' grandfathers have such an influence in
He smiled a rueful recognition of the justice of her thrust and then
fell into silence.
The road did not climb up now, but led along the side of the mountain.
Through the dense woods the sky-line, first guessed at, then clearly
seen between the thick-standing tree-trunks, sank lower and lower.
"We are approaching," said Page, motioning in front of them, "the
jumping-off place." They passed from the tempered green light of the
wood and emerged upon a great windy plateau, carpeted thickly with
deep green moss, flanked right and left with two mountain peaks and
roofed over with an expanse of brilliant summer sky. Before them the
plateau stretched a mile or more, wind-swept, sun-drenched, with an
indescribable bold look of great altitude; but close to them at one
side ran a parapet-like line of tumbled rock and beyond this a sheer
descent. The eye leaped down abrupt slopes of forest to the valley
they had left, now a thousand feet below them, jewel-like with mystic
blues and greens, tremulous with heat. On the noble height where they
stood, the wind blew cool from the sea of mist-blue peaks beyond the
Sylvia was greatly moved. "Oh, what a wonderful spot!" she said under
her breath. "I never dreamed that anything could be--" She burst out
suddenly, scarcely knowing what she said, "Oh, I wish my _mother_
could be here!" She had not thought of her mother for days, and now
hardly knew that she had spoken her name. Standing there, poised above
the dark richness of the valley, her heart responding to those vast
airy spaces by an upward-soaring sweep, the quick tears of ecstasy
were in her eyes. She had entirely forgotten herself and her
companion. He did not speak. His eyes were on her face.
She moved to the parapet of rock and leaned against it. The action
brought her to herself and she flashed around on Page a grateful
smile. "It's a very beautiful spot you've brought me to," she said.
He came up beside her now. "It's a favorite of mine," he said quietly.
"If I come straight through the woods it's not more than a mile from
my farm. I come up here for the sunsets sometimes--or for dawn."
Sylvia found the idea almost too much for her. "_Oh!_" she
"Yes," said the man, smiling faintly. "It's all of that!"
In her life of plains and prairies Sylvia had never been upon a great
height, had never looked down and away upon such reaches of far
valley, such glorious masses of sunlit mountain; and beyond them,
giving wings to the imagination, were mountains, more mountains,
distant, incalculably distant, with unseen hollow valleys between; and
finally, mountains again, half cloud, melting indistinguishably into
the vaporous haze of the sky. Above her, sheer and vast, lay Hemlock
Mountain, all its huge bulk a sleeping, passionless calm. Beyond was
the solemnity of Windward Mountain's concave shell, full to the
brim with brooding blue shadows, a well of mystery in that day of
wind-blown sunshine. Beneath her, above her, before her, seemingly the
element in which she was poised, was space, illimitable space. She had
never been conscious of such vastness, she was abashed by it, she was
exalted by it, she knew a moment of acute shame for the pettiness of
her personal grievances. For a time her spirit was disembarrassed
of the sorry burden of egotism, and she drank deep from the cup of
healing which Nature holds up in such instants of beatitude. Her eyes
were shining pools of peace....
They went on in a profound silence across the plateau, the deep, soft
moss bearing them up with a tough elasticity, the sun hot and lusty
on their heads, the sweet, strong summer wind swift and loud in their
ears, the only sound in all that enchanted upland spot. Often Sylvia
lifted her face to the sky, so close above her, to the clouds moving
with a soundless rhythm across the sky; once or twice she turned her
head suddenly from one side to the other, to take in all the beauty at
one glance, and smiled on it all, a vague, sunny, tender smile. But
she did not speak.
As she trod on the thick moss upspringing under her long, light step,
her advance seemed as buoyant as though she stepped from cloud to
When they reached the other side, and were about to begin the descent
into Lydford valley, she lingered still. She looked down into the
valley before her, across to the mountains, and, smiling, with
half-shut eyes of supreme satisfaction, she said under her breath:
"It's Beethoven--just the blessedness of Beethoven! The valley is
a legato passage, quiet and flowing; those far, up-pricking hills,
staccato; and the mountains here, the solemn chords."
Her companion did not answer. She looked up at him, inquiringly,
thinking that he had not heard her, and found him evidently too deeply
moved to speak. She was startled, almost frightened, almost shocked by
the profundity of his gaze upon her. Her heart stood still and gave
a great leap. Chiefly she was aware of an immense astonishment and
incredulity. An hour before he had never seen her, had never heard of
her--and during that hour she had been barely aware of him, absorbed
in herself, indifferent. How could he in that hour have ...
He looked away and said steadily, "--and the river is the melody that
binds it all together."
Sylvia drew a great breath of relief. She had been the victim of some
extraordinary hallucination: "--with the little brooks for variations
on the theme," she added hastily.
He held aside an encroaching briar, stretching its thorny arm across
the path. "Here's the beginning of the trail down to Lydford," he
said. "We will be there in twenty minutes. It's almost a straight drop
SYLVIA ASKS HERSELF "WHY NOT?"
If Sylvia wondered, as she dropped down the heights to the valley,
what her reception might be at her aunt's ceremonious household when
she entered escorted by a strange hatless man in blue overalls, her
fancy fell immeasurably short of the actual ensuing sensation. Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, her stepson, Felix Morrison, and old Mr. Sommerville
were all sitting together on the wide north veranda, evidently waiting
to be called to luncheon when, at half-past one, the two pedestrians
emerged through a side wicket in the thick green hedge of spruce, and
advanced up the path, with the free, swinging step of people who have
walked far and well. The effect on the veranda was unimaginable.
Sheer, open-mouthed stupefaction blurred for an instant the composed,
carefully arranged masks of those four exponents of decorum. They
gaped and stared, unable to credit their eyes.
And then, according to their natures, they acted. Mrs. Marshall-Smith
rose quickly, smiled brilliantly, and stepped forward with welcoming
outstretched hands. "Why, Sylvia dear, how delightful! What an
unexpected pleasure, Mr. Page!"
Old Mr. Sommerville fairly bounded past Sylvia, caught the man's arm,
and said in an anxious, affectionate, startled voice, "Why, Austin!
Morrison rose, but stood quietly by his chair, his face entirely
expressionless, palpably and correctly "at attention." He had not seen
Sylvia since the announcement of his engagement the day before. He
gave her now a graceful, silent, friendly salute from a distance as
she stood by her aunt, he called out to her companion a richly cordial
greeting of "Well, Page. This is luck indeed!" but he indicated by his
immobility that as a stranger he would not presume to go further until
the first interchange between blood-kin was over.
As for Arnold, he neither stirred from his chair, nor opened his mouth
to speak. A slow smile widened on his lips: it expanded. He grinned
delightedly down at his cigarette, and up at the ceiling, and finally
broke into an open laugh of exquisite enjoyment of the scene before
Four people were talking at once; Mr. Sommerville, a dismayed old hand
still clutching at the new-comer, was protesting with extreme vigor,
and being entirely drowned out by the others. "Of course he can't
stay--as he _is!_ I'll go home with him at once! His room at my house
is always ready for him!--fresh clothes!--No, no--impossible to stay!"
Mrs. Marshall-Smith was holding firm with her loveliest manner of warm
friendliness concentrated on Page. "Oh, no ceremony, Mr. Page, not
between old friends. Luncheon is just ready--who cares how you look?"
She did not physically dispute with Mr. Sommerville the possession of
the new-comer, but she gave entirely that effect.
Sylvia, unable to meet Morrison's eyes, absorbed in the difficulty of
the moment for her, unillumined by the byplay between her aunt and old
Mr. Sommerville, strove for an appearance of vivacious loquacity, and
cast into the conversation entirely disregarded bits of description
of the fire. "Oh, Tantine, such an excitement!--we took nine men
with hoes up such a steep--!" And finally Page, resisting old Mr.
Sommerville's pull on his arm, was saying: "If luncheon is ready,
and I'm invited, no more needs to be said. I've been haying and
fire-fighting since seven this morning. A wolf is nothing compared
with me." He looked across the heads of the three nearest him and
called to Arnold: "Smith, you'll lend me some flannels, won't you? We
must be much of the same build."
Mrs. Marshall-Smith turned, taking no pains to hide her satisfaction.
She positively gloated over the crestfallen Mr. Sommerville. "Sylvia,
run quick and have Helene smooth your hair. And call to Tojiko to put
on an extra place for luncheon. Arnold, take Mr. Page up to your room,
won't you, so that he--"
Sylvia, running up the stairs, heard her late companion protesting:
"Oh, just for a change of clothes, only a minute--you needn't expect
me to do any washing. I'm clean. I'm washed within an inch of my
life--yellow soap--kitchen soap!"
"And our little scented toilet futilities," Morrison's cameo of
small-talk carried to the upper hall. "What could they add to such a
"Hurry, Helene," said Sylvia. "It is late, and Mr. Page is dying of
In spite of the exhortation to haste, Helene stopped short, uplifted
brush in hand. "Mr. Page, the millionaire!" she exclaimed.
Sylvia blinked at her in the glass, amazed conjectures racing through
her mind. But she had sufficient self-possession to say, carelessly as
though his identity was nothing to her: "I don't know. It is the first
time I have seen him. He certainly is not handsome."
Helene thrust in the hairpins with impassioned haste and deftness, and
excitedly snatched a lace jacket from a drawer. To the maid's despair
Sylvia refused this adornment, refused the smallest touch of rouge,
refused an ornament in her hair. Helene wrung her hands. "But see,
Mademoiselle is not wise! For what good is it to be so savage! He is
more rich than all! They say he owns all the State of Colorado!"
Sylvia, already in full retreat towards the dining-room, caught this
last geographic extravagance of Gallic fancy, and laughed, and with
this mirth still in her face made her re-entry on the veranda. She had
not been away three minutes from the group there, and she was to the
eye as merely flushed and gay when she came back as when she went
away; but a revolution had taken place. Closely shut in her hand, she
held, held fast, the key Helene had thrust there. Behind her smile,
her clear, bright look of valiant youth, a great many considerations
were being revolved with extreme rapidity by an extremely swift and
Swift and active as was the brain, it fairly staggered under the task
of instantly rearranging the world according to the new pattern:
for the first certainty to leap into sight was that the pattern was
utterly changed by the events of the morning. She had left the
house, betrayed, defenseless save for a barren dignity, and she had
re-entered it in triumph, or at least with a valid appearance of
triumph, an appearance which had already tided her over the aching
difficulty of the first meeting with Morrison and might carry her ...
she had no time now to think how far.
Page and Arnold were still invisible when she emerged again on the
veranda, and Mrs. Marshall-Smith pounced on her with the frankest
curiosity. "Sylvia, do tell us--how in the world--"
Sylvia was in the midst of a description of the race to the fire, as
vivid as she could make it, when Arnold sauntered back and after him,
in a moment, Page, astonishingly transformed by clothes. His height
meant distinction now. Sylvia noted again his long, strong hands, his
aquiline, tanned face and clear eyes, his thoughtful, observant eyes.
There was a whimsical quirk of his rather thin but gentle lips which
reminded her of the big bust of Emerson in her father's study. She
liked all this; but her suspiciousness, alert for affront, since the
experience with Morrison, took offense at his great ease of manner. It
had seemed quite natural and unaffected to her, in fact she had not at
all noticed it before; but now that she knew of his great wealth, she
instantly conceived a resentful idea that possibly it might come from
the self-assurance of a man who knows himself much courted. She held
her head high, gave to him as to Arnold a nod of careless recognition,
and continued talking: "Such a road--so steep--sand half-way to the
hubs, such water-bars!" She turned to Morrison with her first overt
recognition of the new status between them. "You ought to have seen
your fiancee! She was wonderful! I was proud of her!"
Morrison nodded a thoughtful assent. "Yes, Molly's energy is
irresistible," he commented, casting his remark in the form of a
generalization the significance of which did not pass unnoticed by
Sylvia's sharp ears. They were the first words he had spoken to her
since his engagement.
"Luncheon is ready," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "Do come in." Every one
by this time being genuinely hungry, and for various reasons extremely
curious about the happenings back of Sylvia's appearance, the meal was
dedicated frankly to eating, varied only by Sylvia's running account
of the fire. "And then Molly wanted to take the fire-fighters home,
and I offered to walk to have more room for them, and Mr. Page brought
me up the other side of Hemlock and over the pass between Hemlock and
Windward and down past Deer Cliff, home," she wound up, compressing
into tantalizing brevity what was patently for her listeners by far
the most important part of the expedition.
"Well, whatever route he took, it is astonishing that he knew the way
to Lydford at all," commented Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "I don't believe
you've been here before for years!" she said to Page.
"It's my confounded shyness," he explained, turning to Sylvia with a
twinkle. "The grand, sophisticated ways of Lydford are too much for
the nerves of a plain-living rustic like me. When I farm in Vermont
the spirit of the place takes hold of me. I'm quite apt to eat my pie
with my knife, and Lydford wouldn't like that."
Sylvia was aware, through the laughter which followed this joking
remark, that there was an indefinable stir around the table. His
turning to her had been pronounced. She took a sore pleasure in
Morrison's eclipse. For the first time he was not the undisputed
center of that circle. He accepted it gravely, a little preoccupied,
a little absent, a wonderfully fine and dignified figure. Under her
misanthropic exultation, Sylvia felt again and again the stab of
her immense admiration for him, her deep affinity for his way of
conducting life. Whatever place he might take in the circle around the
luncheon table, she found him inevitably at the center of all her own
thoughts. However it might seem to those evidently greatly struck with
her extraordinary good luck, her triumph was in reality only the most
pitiful of pretenses. But such as it was, and it gleamed richly enough
on the eyes of the onlookers, she shook it out with a flourish and
gave no sign of heartsick qualms. She gave a brilliantly undivided
attention to the bit of local history Page was telling her, of a
regiment of Green Mountain Boys who had gone down to the Battle of
Bennington over the pass between Windward and Hemlock Mountain, and
she was able to stir Page to enthusiasm by an appreciative comparison
of their march with the splendid and affecting incident before
Marathon, when the thousand hoplites from the little town of Plataea
crossed the Cithaeron range and went down to the plain to join the
Athenians in their desperate stand.
"How do you _happen_ to come East just now, anyhow?" inquired old Mr.
Sommerville, resolutely shouldering his way into the conversation.
"My yellow streak!" affirmed his nephew. "Colorado got too much for
me. And besides, I was overcome by an atavistic longing to do chores."
He turned to Sylvia again, the gesture as unconscious and simple as a
boy's. "My great-grandfather was a native of these parts, and about
once in so often I revert to type."
"All my mother's people came from this region too," Sylvia said. She
added meditatively, "And I think I must have reverted to type--up
there on the mountain, this morning."
He looked at her silently, with softening eyes.
"You'll be going back soon, I suppose, as usual!" said old Mr.
Sommerville with determination.
"To Colorado?" inquired Page. "No, I think--I've a notion I'll stay on
this summer for some time. There is an experiment I want to try with
alfalfa in Vermont."
Over his wineglass Arnold caught Sylvia's eye, and winked.
"Still reading as much as ever, I suppose." Mr. Sommerville was not
to be put down. "When I last saw you, it was some fool socialistic
poppycock about the iniquity of private exploitation of natural
resources. How'd they ever have been exploited any other way I'd like
to know! What's socialism? Organized robbery! Nothing else! 'Down with
success! Down with initiative! Down with brains!' Stuff!"
"It's not socialism this time: it's Professor Merritt's theories on
property," said Sylvia to the old gentleman, blandly ignoring his
ignoring of her.
Page stared at her in astonishment. "Are you a clairvoyant?" he cried.
"No, no," she explained, laughing. "You took it out of your pocket up
there by the brook."
"But you saw only the title. Merritt's name isn't on the cover."
"Oh, it's a pretty well-known book," said Sylvia easily. "And my
father's a professor of Economics. When I was little I used to have
books like that to build houses with, instead of blocks. And I've had
to keep them in order and dusted ever since. I'm not saying that I
know much about their insides."
"Just look there!" broke in Arnold. "Did I ever see a young lady pass
up such a perfectly good chance to bluff!"
As usual nobody paid the least attention to his remark. The
conversation shifted to a radical play which had been on the boards in
Paris, the winter before.
After luncheon, they adjourned into the living-room. As the company
straggled across the wide, dimly shining, deeply shaded hall, Sylvia
felt her arm seized and held, and turning her head, looked into the
laughing face of Arnold. "What kind of flowers does Judy like the
best?" he inquired, the question evidently the merest pretext to
detain her, for as the others moved out of earshot he said in a
delighted whisper, his eyes gleaming in the dusk with amused malice:
"Go it, Sylvia! Hit 'em out! It's worth enduring oceans of Greek
history to see old Sommerville squirm. Molly gone--Morrison as poor as
a church mouse; and now Page going fast before his very eyes--"
She shook off his hand with genuine annoyance. "I don't know what
you're talking about, Arnold. You're horrid! Judith doesn't like cut
flowers at all,--any kind. She likes them alive, on plants."
"She _would!_" Arnold was rapt in his habitual certainty that every
peculiarity of Judith's was another reason for prostrate adoration.
"I'll send her a window-box for every window in the hospital." His
admiration overflowed to Judith's sister. He patted her on the
shoulder. "You're all right too, Sylvia. You're batting about
three-sixty, right now. I've always told the girls when they said Page
was offish that if they could only get in under his guard once--and
somehow you've done it. I bet on _you_--" He began to laugh at her
stern face of reproof. "Oh, yes, yes, I agree! You don't know what I'm
talking about! It's just alfalfa in Vermont! Only my low vulgarity to
think anything else!" He moved away down the hall. "Beat it! I slope!"
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Away! Away!" he answered. "Anywhere that's away. The air is rank with
Oscar Wilde and the Renaissance. I feel them coming." Still laughing,
he bounded upstairs, three steps at a time.
Sylvia stepped forward, crossed the threshold of the living-room,
and paused by the piano, penetrated by bitter-sweet associations. If
Morrison felt them also, he gave no sign. He had chosen a chair by a
distant window and was devoting himself to Molly's grandfather, who
accepted this delicate and entirely suitable attention with a rather
glum face. Mrs. Marshall-Smith and Page still stood in the center
of the room, and turned as Sylvia came in. "Do give us some music,
Sylvia," said her aunt, sinking into a chair while Page came forward
to sit near the piano.
Sylvia's fingers rested on the keys for a moment, her face very grave,
almost somber, and then, as though taking a sudden determination, she
began to play a Liszt Liebes-Traum. It was the last music Morrison had
played to her before the beginning of the change. Into its fevered
cadences she poured the quivering, astonished hurt of her young heart.
No one stirred during the music nor for the moment afterward, in which
she turned about to face the room. She looked squarely at Morrison,
who was rolling a cigarette with meticulous care, and as she looked,
he raised his eyes and gave her across the room one deep, flashing
glance of profound significance. That was all. That was enough. That
was everything. Sylvia turned back to the piano shivering, hot and
cold with secret joy. His look said, "Yes, of course, a thousand times
of course, you are the one in my heart." What the facts said for him
was, "But I am going to marry Molly because she has money."
Sylvia was horrified that she did not despise him, that she did not
resent his entering her heart again with the intimacy of that
look. Her heart ran out to welcome him back; but from the sense of
furtiveness she shrank back with her lifetime habit and experience of
probity, with the instinctive distaste for stealth engendered only by
long and unbroken acquaintance with candor. With a mental action as
definite as the physical one of freeing her feet from a quicksand she
turned away from the alluring, dim possibility opened to her by that
look. No, no! No stains, no smears, no shufflings! She was conscious
of no moral impulse, in the usual sense of the word. Her imagination
took in no possibility of actual wrong. But when, with a fastidious
impulse of good taste, she turned her back on something ugly, she
turned her back unwittingly on something worse than ugly.
But it was not easy! Oh, not at all easy! She quailed with a sense of
her own weakness, so unexpected, so frightening. Would she resist it
the next time? How pierced with helpless ecstasy she had been by that
interchange of glances! What was there, in that world, by which she
could steady herself?
"How astonishingly well you play," said Page, rousing himself from the
dreamy silence of appreciation.
"I ought to," she said with conscious bitterness. "I earn my living by
She was aware from across the room of an electric message from Aunt
Victoria protesting against her perversity; and she reflected with
a morose amusement that however delicately phrased Aunt Victoria's
protests might be, its substance was the same as that of Helene,
crying out on her for not adding the soupcon of rouge. She took a
sudden resolution. Well, why not? Everything conspired to push her
in that direction. The few factors which did not were mere imbecile
idealism, or downright hypocrisy. She drew a long breath. She smiled
at Page, a smile of reference to something in common between them.
"Shan't I play you some Beethoven?" she asked, "something with a
legato passage and great solemn chords, and a silver melody binding
the whole together?"
"Oh yes, do!" he said softly. And in a moment she was putting all of
her intelligence, her training, and her capacity to charm into the
tones of the E-flat Minuet.
A HYPOTHETICAL LIVELIHOOD
The millionaire proprietor had asked them all over to the Austin Farm,
and as they drew near the end of the very expensive and delicately
served meal which Page had spoken of as a "picnic-lunch," various
plans for the disposition of the afternoon were suggested. These
suggestions were prefaced by the frank statement of the owner of the
place that whatever else the others did, it was his own intention to
take Miss Marshall through a part of his pine plantations and explain
his recent forestry operations to her. The assumption that Miss
Marshall would of course be interested in his pine plantations and
lumbering operations struck nobody but Miss Marshall as queer. With
the most hearty and simple unconsciousness, they unanimously felt that
of course Miss Marshall _would_ be interested in the pine plantations
and the lumbering operations of any man who was worth nobody knew how
many millions in coal, and who was so obviously interested in her.
Sylvia had been for some weeks observing the life about her with very
much disillusioned eyes and she now labeled the feeling on the part of
her friends with great accuracy, saying to herself cynically, "If it
were prize guinea-pigs or collecting beer-steins, they would all be
just as sure that I would jump up and say, 'Oh yes, _do_ show me, Mr.
Page!'" Following this moody reflection she immediately jumped up
and said enthusiastically, "Oh yes, _do_ show me, Mr. Page!" The
brilliance in her eyes during these weeks came partly from a relieved
sense of escape from a humiliating position, and partly from an
amusement at the quality of human nature which was as dubiously
enjoyable as the grim amusement of biting on a sore tooth.
She now took her place by the side of their host, and thought, looking
at his outdoor aspect, that her guess at what to wear had been better
than Aunt Victoria's or Molly's. For the question of what to wear had
been a burning one. Pressure had been put on her to don just a lacy,
garden-party toilette of lawn and net as now automatically barred both
Aunt Victoria and Molly from the proposed expedition to the woods.
Nobody had had the least idea what was to be the color of the
entertainment offered them, for the great significance of the affair
was that it was the first time that Page had ever invited any one to
the spot for which he evidently felt such an unaccountable affection.
Aunt Victoria had explained to Sylvia, "It's always at the big Page
estate in Lenox that he entertains, or rather that he gets his mother
to do the absolutely indispensable entertaining for him." Morrison
said laughingly: "Isn't it the very quintessence of quaintness to
visit him there! To watch his detached, whimsical air of not being
in the least a part of all the magnificence which bears his name. He
insists, you know, that he doesn't begin to know his way around that
huge house!" "It was his father who built the Lenox place," commented
Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "It suited _his_ taste to perfection. Austin
seems to have a sort of Marie-Antoinette reaction towards a somewhat
painfully achieved simplicity. He's not the man to take any sort of
pose. If he were, it would be impossible not to suspect him of
a little pose in his fondness for going back to his farmer
great-grandfather's setting." Guided by this conversation, and by
shrewd observations of her own, Sylvia had insisted, even to the point
of strenuousness, upon wearing to this first housewarming a cloth
skirt and coat, tempering the severity of this costume with a
sufficiently feminine and beruffled blouse of silk. As their car had
swung up before the plain, square, big-chimneyed old house, and Page
had come to meet them, dressed in khaki-colored forester's garb,
with puttees, Aunt Victoria had been generous enough to admit by an
eye-flash to Sylvia that the girl knew her business very well. There
was not, of course, Sylvia reflected, the slightest pretense of
obscurity between them as to what, under the circumstances, her
All this lay back of the fact that, as Sylvia, her face bright with
spontaneous interest in pine plantations and lumbering operations,
stepped to the side of the man in puttees, her costume exactly suited
From the midst of a daring and extremely becoming arrangement of black
and white striped chiffon and emerald-green velvet, Molly's beautiful
face smiled on them approvingly. For various reasons, the spectacle
afforded her as much pleasure as it did extreme discomfort to her
grandfather, and with her usual masterful grasp on a situation she
began to arrange matters so that the investigation of pine plantations
and lumber operations should be conducted _en tete-a-tete_. "Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, you're going to stay here, of course, to look at
Austin's lovely view! Think of his having hidden that view away from
us all till now! I want to go through the house later on, and without
Austin, so I can linger and pry if I like! I want to look at every
single thing. It's lovely--the completest Yankee setting! It looks
as though we all ought to have on clean gingham aprons and wear
steel-rimmed spectacles. No, Austin, don't frown! I don't mean that
for a knock. I love it, honestly I do! I always thought I'd like to
wear clean gingham aprons myself. The only things that are out of
keeping are those shelves and shelves and shelves of solemn books with
such terrible titles!"
"That's a fact, Page," said Morrison, laughing. "Molly's hit the
nail squarely. Your modern, economic spasms over the organization of
industrialism are out of place in that delightful, eighteenth century,
plain old interior. They threw _their_ fits over theology!"
The owner of the house nodded. "Yes, you know your period! A
great-great-grandfather of mine, a ministerial person, had left a lot
of books on the nature of the Trinity and Free Will and such. They had
to be moved up to the attic to make room for mine. What books will be
on those shelves a hundred years from now, I wonder?"
"Treatises on psychic analysis, on how to transfer thought without
words, unless I read the signs of the times wrong," Morrison hazarded
Molly was bored by this talk and anxious to get the walkers off.
"You'd better be starting if you're going far up on the mountain,
Austin. We have to be back for a tea at Mrs. Neville's, where Sylvia's
to pour. Mrs. Neville would have a thing or two to say to us, if we
made her lose her main drawing card."
"Are you coming, Morrison?" asked Page.
"No, he isn't," said Molly decidedly. "He's going to stay to play to
me on that delicious tin-panny old harpsichordy thing in your 'best
room.' You do call it the 'best room,' don't you? They always do in
New England dialect stories. Grandfather, you have your cards with
you, haven't you? You always have. If you'll get them out, Felix and
Arnold and I'll play whist with you."
Only one of those thus laid hold of, slipped out from her strong
little fingers. Arnold raised himself, joint by joint, from his chair,
and announced that he was a perfect nut-head when it came to whist.
"And, anyhow," he went on insistently, raising his voice as Molly
began to order him back into the ranks--"And, anyhow, I don't want to
play whist! And I do want to see what Page has been up to all this
time he's kept so dark about his goings-on over here. No, Molly, you
needn't waste any more perfectly good language on me. You can boss
everybody else if you like, but I'm the original, hairy wild-man who
gets what he wants."
He strolled off across the old-fashioned garden and out of the gate
with the other two, his attention given as usual to lighting a
cigarette. It was an undertaking of some difficulty on that day of
stiff September wind which blew Sylvia's hair about her ears in
bright, dancing flutters.
They were no more than out of earshot of the group left on the porch,
than Sylvia, as so often happened in her growing acquaintanceship with
Page, found herself obliged entirely to reconstruct an impression of
him. It was with anything but a rich man's arrogant certainty of
her interest that he said, very simply as he said everything: "I
appreciate very much, Miss Marshall, your being willing to come along
and see all this. It's a part of your general kindness to everybody.
I hope it won't bore you to extremity. I'm so heart and soul in it
myself, I shan't know when to stop talking about it. In fact I shan't
want to stop, even if I know I should. I've never said much about it
to any one before, and I very much want your opinion on it."
Sylvia felt a decent pinch of shame, and her eyes were not brilliant
with sardonic irony but rather dimmed with self-distrust as she
answered with a wholesome effort for honesty: "I really don't know a
single thing about forestry, Mr. Page. You'll have to start in at the
very beginning, and explain everything. I hope I've sense enough
to take an intelligent interest." Very different, this, from the
meretricious sparkle of her, "Oh yes, _do_ show me, Mr. Page." She
felt that to be rather cheap, as she remembered it. She wondered if he
had seen its significance, had seen through her. From a three weeks'
intensive acquaintance with him, she rather thought he had. His eyes
were clear, formidably so. He put her on her mettle.
Arnold had lighted his cigarette by this time, offered one to Page
with his incurable incapacity to remember that not every sane man
smokes, and on being refused, put his hands deep in his pockets. The
three tall young people were making short work of the stretch of
sunny, windy, upland pasture, and were already almost in the edge of
the woods which covered the slope of the mountain above them up to the
very crest, jewel-green against the great, piled, cumulus clouds.
"Well, I _will_ begin at the beginning, then," said Page. "I'll
begin back in 1762, when this valley was settled and my
ever-so-many-greats-grandfather took possession of a big slice of this
side of Hemlock Mountain, with the sole idea that trees were men's
enemies. The American colonists thought of forests, you know, as
places for Indians to lurk, spots that couldn't be used for corn,
growths to be exterminated as fast as possible."
They entered the woods now, walking at a good pace up the steeply
rising, grass-grown wood-road. Sylvia quite consciously summoned all
her powers of attention and concentration for the hour before her,
determined to make a good impression to counteract whatever too great
insight her host might have shown in the matter of her first interest.
She bent her fine brows with the attention she had so often summoned
to face a difficult final examination, to read at the correct tempo a
complicated piece of music, to grasp the essentials of a new subject.
Her trained interest in understanding things, which of late had been
feeding on rather moldy scraps of cynical psychology, seized with
energy and delight on a change of diet. She not only tried to be
interested. Very shortly she was interested, absorbed, intent. What
Page had to say fascinated her. She even forgot who he was, and that
he was immensely rich. Though this forgetfulness was only momentary it
was an unspeakable relief and refreshment to her.
She listened intently; at times she asked a pertinent question; as she
walked she gave the man an occasional direct survey, as impersonal as
though he were a book from which she was reading. And exactly as an
intelligent reader, in a first perusal of a new subject, snatches the
heart out of paragraph after paragraph, ignoring the details until
later, she took to herself only the gist of her host's recital. Yes,
yes, she saw perfectly the generations of Vermont farmers who had
hated trees because they meant the wilderness, and whose destruction
of forests was only limited by the puniness of the forces they matched
against the great wooded slopes of the mountains they pre-empted. And
she saw later, the long years of utter neglect of those hacked-at and
half-destroyed forests while Page's grandfather and father descended
on the city and on financial operations with the fierce, fresh energy
of frontiersmen. She was struck by the fact that those ruthless
victors of Wall Street had not sold the hundreds of worthless acres,
which they never took the trouble to visit; and by the still more
significant fact that as the older ones of the family died, the
Austins, the Pages, the Woolsons, the Hawkers, and as legacy after
legacy of more worthless mountain acres came by inheritance to the
financiers, those tracts too were never sold. They never thought of
them, Page told her, except grumblingly to pay the taxes on them; they
considered them of ridiculously minute proportions compared to their
own titanic manipulations, but they had never sold them. Sylvia saw
them vividly, those self-made exiles from the mountains, and felt in
them some unacknowledged loyalty to the soil, the barren soil which
had borne them, some inarticulate affection which had lived through
the heat and rage of their embattled lives. The taproot had been too
deep for them to break off, and now from it there was springing up
this unexpected stem, this sole survivor of their race who turned
away from what had been the flaming breath of life in their brazen
nostrils, back to the green fragrance of their mutilated and forgotten
Not the least of the charm of this conception for Sylvia came from
the fact that she quarried it out for herself from the bare narration
presented to her, that she read it not at all in the words, but in the
voice, the face, the manner of the raconteur. She was amused, she was
touched, she was impressed by his studiously matter-of-fact version of
his enterprise. He put forward with the shy, prudish shamefacedness of
the New Englander the sound financial basis of his undertaking, as its
main claim on his interest, as its main value. "I heard so much about
forestry being nothing but a rich man's plaything," he said. "I just
got my back up, and wanted to see if it couldn't be made a paying
thing. And I've proved it can be. I've had the closest account kept of
income and outgo, and so far from being a drain on a man to reforest
his woodland and administer it as he should, there's an actual profit
in it, enough to make a business of it, enough to occupy a man for his
lifetime and his son after him, if he gives it his personal care."
At this plain statement of a comprehensible fact, Arnold's inattention
gave place to a momentary interest. "Is there?" he asked with
surprise. "How much?"
"Well," said Page, "my system, as I've gradually worked it out, is to
clear off a certain amount each year of our mediocre woodland, such as
for the most part grows up where the bad cutting was done a couple of
generations ago--maple and oak and beech it is, mostly, with little
stands of white birch, where fires have been. I work that up in my
own sawmill so as to sell as little of a raw product as possible; and
dispose of it to the wood-working factories in the region." (Sylvia
remembered the great "brush-back factory" whence Molly had recruited
her fire-fighters.) "Then I replant that area to white pine. That's
the best tree for this valley. I put about a thousand trees to the
acre. Or if there seems to be a good prospect of natural reproduction,
I try for that. There's a region over there, about a hundred acres,"
he waved his hand to the north of them, "that's thick with seedling
ash. I'm leaving that alone. But for the most part, white pine's our
best lay. Pine thrives on soil that stunts oak and twists beech. Our
oak isn't good quality, and maple is such an interminably slow
grower. In about twenty years from planting, you can make your first,
box-board cutting of pine, and every ten years thereafter--"
Arnold had received this avalanche of figures and species with an
astonished blink, and now protested energetically that he had had not
the slightest intention of precipitating any such flood. "Great Scott,
Page, catch your breath! If you're talking to me, you'll have to use
English, anyhow. I've no more idea what you're talking about! Who do
you take me for? _I_ don't know an ash-tree from an ash-cart. You
started in to tell me what the profit of the thing is."
Page looked pained but patient, like a reasonable man who knows his
hobby is running away with him, but who cannot bring himself to use
the curb. "Oh yes," he said apologetically. "Why, we cleared last year
(exclusive of the farm, which yields a fair profit)--we cleared about
two thousand dollars." Arnold seemed to regard this statement as quite
the most ridiculous mouse which ever issued from a mountain. He burst
into an open laugh. "Almost enough to buy you a new car a year, isn't
it?" he commented.
Page looked extremely nettled. An annoyed flush showed through the
tan of his clear skin. He was evidently very touchy about his pet
lumbering operations. "A great many American families consider that a
sufficient income," he said stiffly.
Sylvia had another inspiration, such as had been the genesis of her
present walking-costume. "You're too silly, Arnold. The important
thing isn't what the proportion with Mr. Page's own income is! What he
was trying to do, and what he _has_ done, only you don't know
enough to see it, is to prove that sane forestry is possible for
forest-owners of small means. I know, if you don't, that two thousand
is plenty to live on. My father's salary is only twenty-four hundred
now, and we were all brought up when it was two thousand."
She had had an intuitive certainty that this frank revelation would
please Page, and she was rewarded by an openly ardent flash from his
clear eyes. There was in his look at her an element of enchanted,
relieved recognition, as though he had nodded and said: "Oh, you _are_
my kind of a woman after all! I was right about you."
Arnold showed by a lifted eyebrow that he was conscious of being
put down, but he survived the process with his usual negligent
obliviousness of reproof. "Well, if two thousand a year produced
Judith, go ahead, Page, and my blessing on you!" He added in a
half-apology for his offensive laughter, "It just tickled me to hear
a man who owns most of several counties of coal-mines so set up over
finding a nickel on the street!"
Page had regained his geniality. "Well, Smith, maybe I needn't have
jumped so when you stepped on my toe. But it's my pet toe, you see.
You're quite right--I'm everlastingly set up over my nickel. But it's
not because I found it. It's because I earned it. It happens to be the
only nickel I ever earned. It's natural I should want it treated with
Arnold did not trouble to make any sense out of this remark, and
Sylvia was thinking bitterly to herself: "But that's pure bluff! I'm
_not_ his kind of a woman. I'm Felix Morrison's kind!" No comment,
therefore, was made on the quaintness of the rich man's interest in
They were now in one of the recent pine plantations, treading a
wood-road open to the sky, running between acres and acres of thrifty
young pines. Page's eyes glistened with affection as he looked at
them, and with the unwearied zest of the enthusiast he continued
expanding on his theme. Sylvia knew the main outline of her new
subject now, felt that she had walked all around it, and was agreeably
surprised at her sympathy with it. She continued with a genuine
curiosity to extract more details; and like any man who talks of a
process which he knows thoroughly, Page was wholly at the mercy of a
sympathetic listener. His tongue tripped itself in his readiness to
answer, to expound, to tell his experiences, to pour out a confidently
accurate and precise flood of information. Sylvia began to take a
playful interest in trying to find a weak place in his armor, to ask a
question he could not answer. But he knew all the answers. He knew the
relative weight per cubic foot of oak and pine and maple; he knew the
railroad rates per ton on carload lots; he knew why it is cheaper in
the long run to set transplants in sod-land instead of seeding it; he
knew what per cent to write off for damage done by the pine weevil, he
reveled in complicated statistics as to the actual cost per thousand
for chopping, skidding, drawing, sawing logs. He laughed at Sylvia's
attempts to best him, and in return beat about her ears with
statistics for timber cruising, explained the variations of the
Vermont and the scribner's decimal log rule, and recited log-scaling
tables as fluently as the multiplication table. They were in the midst
of this lively give-and-take, listened to with a mild amusement on
Arnold's part, when they emerged on a look-out ledge of gray slate,
and were struck into silence by the grave loveliness of the immense
prospect below them.
"--and of course," murmured Page finally, on another note, "of course
it's rather a satisfaction to feel that you are making waste land of
use to the world, and helping to protect the living waters of all
that--" He waved his hand over the noble expanse of sunlit valley. "It
seems"--he drew a long breath--"it seems something quite worth doing."
Sylvia was moved to a disinterested admiration for him; and it was a
not unworthy motive which kept her from looking up to meet his eyes
on her. She felt a petulant distaste for the calculating speculations
which filled the minds of all her world about his intentions towards
her. He was really too fine for that. At least, she owed it to her
own dignity not to abuse this moment of fine, impersonal emotion to
advance another step into intimacy with him.
But as she stood, looking fixedly down at the valley, she was quite
aware that a sympathetic silence and a thoughtful pose might make, on
the whole, an impression quite as favorable as the most successfully
managed meeting of eyes.
ARNOLD CONTINUES TO DODGE THE RENAISSANCE
A gaunt roaming figure of ennui and restlessness, Arnold appeared at
the door of the pergola and with a petulant movement tore a brilliant
autumn leaf to pieces as he lingered for a moment, listening moodily
to the talk within. He refused with a grimace the chair to which
Sylvia motioned him. "Lord, no! Hear 'em go it!" he said quite audibly
and turned away to lounge back towards the house. Sylvia had had time
to notice, somewhat absently, that he looked ill, as though he had a
Mrs. Marshall-Smith glanced after him with misgiving, and, under cover
of a brilliantly resounding passage at arms between Morrison and
Page, murmured anxiously to Sylvia, "I wish Judith would give up her
nonsense and _marry_ Arnold!"
"Oh, they've only been engaged a couple of months," said Sylvia.
"What's the hurry! She'll get her diploma in January. It'd be a pity
to have her miss!"
Arnold's stepmother broke in rather impatiently, "If I were a girl
engaged to Arnold, I'd _marry_ him!"
"--the trouble with all you connoisseurs, Morrison, is that you're
barking up the wrong tree. You take for granted, from your own tastes,
when people begin to buy jade Buddhas and Zuloaga bull-fighters that
they're wanting to surround themselves with beauty. Not much! It's the
consciousness of money they want to surround themselves with!"
Morrison conceded part of this. "Oh, I grant you, there's a
disheartening deal of imitation in this matter. But America's new to
aesthetics. Don't despise beginnings because they're small!"
"A nettle leaf is small. But that's not the reason why it won't ever
grow into an oak. Look here! A sheaf of winter grasses, rightly
arranged in clear glass, has as much of the essence of beauty as a
bronze vase of the Ming dynasty. I ask you just one question, How many
people do you know who are capable of--"
The art-critic broke in: "Oh come! You're setting up an impossibly
high standard of aesthetic feeling."
"I'm not presuming to do any such thing as setting up a standard!
I'm just insisting that people who can't extract joy from the shadow
pattern of a leafy branch on a gray wall, are liars if they claim to
enjoy a fine Japanese print. What they enjoy in the print is the sense
that they've paid a lot for it. In my opinion, there's no use trying
to advance a step towards any sound aesthetic feeling till _some_ step
is taken away from the idea of cost as the criterion of value about
anything." He drew a long breath and went on, rather more rapidly than
was his usual habit of speech: "I've a real conviction on that point.
It's come to me of late years that one reason we haven't any national
art is because we have too much magnificence. All our capacity for
admiration is used up on the splendor of palace-like railway stations
and hotels. Our national tympanum is so deafened by that blare of
sumptuousness that we have no ears for the still, small voice of
beauty. And perhaps," he paused, looking down absently at a crumb he
rolled between his thumb and finger on the table, "it's possible that
the time is ripening for a wider appreciation of another kind of
beauty ... that has little to do even with such miracles as the shadow
of a branch on a wall."
Morrison showed no interest in this vaguely phrased hypothesis, and
returned to an earlier contention: "You underestimate," he said,
"the amount of education and taste and time it takes to arrange that
simple-looking vase of grasses, to appreciate your leaf-shadows."
"All I'm saying is that your campaign of aesthetic education hasn't
made the matter vital enough to people, to any people, not even to
people who call themselves vastly aesthetic, so that they _give_ time
and effort and self-schooling to the acquisition of beauty. They not
only want their money to do their dirty work for them, they try to
make it do their fine living for them too, with a minimum of effort on
their part. They want to _buy_ beauty, outright, with cash, and have
it stay put, where they can get their fingers on it at any time,
without bothering about it in the meantime. That's the way a Turk
likes his women--same impulse exactly,"
"I've known a few Caucasians too ...," Mrs. Marshall-Smith contributed
a barbed point of malice to the talk.
Page laughed, appreciating her hit. "Oh, I mean Turk as a generic
term." Sylvia, circling warily about the contestants, looking for a
chance to make her presence felt, without impairing the masculine
gusto with which they were monopolizing the center of the stage,
tossed in a suggestion, "Was it Hawthorne's--it's a queer fancy like
Hawthorne's--the idea of the miser, don't you remember, whose joy was
to roll naked in his gold pieces?"
Page snatched up with a delighted laugh the metaphor she had laid in
his hand. "Capital! Precisely! There's the thing in a nutshell. We
twentieth century Midases have got beyond the simple taste of that
founder of the family for the shining yellow qualities of money, but
we love to wallow in it none the less. We like to put our feet on it,
in the shape of rugs valued according to their cost, we like to eat it
in insipid, out-of-season fruit and vegetables."
"Doesn't it occur to you," broke in Morrison, "that you may be
attacking something that's a mere phase, an incident of transition?"
"Is anything ever anything else!" Page broke in to say.
Morrison continued, with a slight frown at the interruption, "America
is simply emerging from the frontier condition of bareness, and it is
only natural that one, or perhaps two generations must be sacrificed
in order to attain a smooth mastery of an existence charged and
enriched with possession." He gave the effect of quoting a paragraph
from one of his lectures.
"Isn't the end of that 'transition,'" inquired Page, "usually simply
that after one or two generations people grow dulled to everything
_but_ possession and fancy themselves worthily occupied when they
spend their lives regulating and caring for their possessions. I
hate," he cried with sudden intensity, "I hate the very sound of the
"Does you great credit, I'm sure," said Morrison, with a faint irony,
a hidden acrimony, pricking, for an instant, an ugly ear through his
Ever since the day of the fire, since Page had become a more and more
frequent visitor in Lydford and had seen more and more of Sylvia, she
had derived a certain amount of decidedly bad-tasting amusement from
the fact of Morrison's animosity to the other man. But this was going
too far. She said instantly, "Do you know, I've just thought what it
is you all remind me of--I mean Lydford, and the beautiful clothes,
and nobody bothering about anything but tea and ideas and knowing the
right people. I knew it made me think of something else, and now I
know--it's a Henry James novel!"
Page took up her lead instantly, and said gravely, putting himself
beside her as another outsider: "Well, of course, that's their ideal.
That's what they _try_ to be like--at least to talk like James people.
But it's not always easy. The vocabulary is so limited."
"Limited!" cried Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "There are more words in a Henry
James novel than in any dictionary!"
"Oh yes, _words_ enough!" admitted Page, "but all about the same sort
of thing. It reminds me of the seminarists in Rome, who have to use
Latin for everything. They can manage predestination and vicarious
atonement like a shot, but when it comes to ordering somebody to call
them for the six-twenty train to Naples they're lost. Now, you can
talk about your bric-a-brac in Henry-Jamesese, you can take away your
neighbor's reputation by subtle suggestion, you can appreciate a fine
deed of self-abnegation, if it's not too definite! I suppose a man
could even make an attenuated sort of love in the lingo, but I'll be
hanged if I see how anybody could order a loaf of bread,"
"One might do without bread, possibly?" suggested Morrison, pressing
the tips of his beautiful fingers together.
"By Jove," cried Page, in hearty assent, "I've a notion that lots of
times they do!"
This was getting nowhere. Mrs. Marshall-Smith put her hand to the
helm, and addressed herself to Morrison with a plain reminder of the
reason for the grotesqueness of his irritability. "Where's _Molly_
keeping herself nowadays?" she inquired. "She hasn't come over with
you, to tea, for ever so long. The pergola isn't itself without her
"Molly is a grain of sand in a hurricane, nowadays," said Morrison
seriously. "It seems that the exigencies of divine convention decree
that a girl who is soon to be married belongs neither to herself, to
her family, to her fiance--oh, least of all to her fiance--but heart
and soul and body to a devouring horde of dressmakers and tailors and
milliners and hairdressers and corsetieres and petticoat specialists
and jewelers and hosiery experts and--"
They were all laughing at the interminable defile of words proceeding
with a Spanish gravity, and Mrs. Marshall-Smith broke in, "I don't
hear anything about house-furnishers."
"No," said Morrison, "the house-furnisher's name is F. Morrison, and
he has no show until after the wedding."
"What _are_ your plans?" asked Mrs. Marshall-Smith.
"Nothing very definite except the great Date. That's fixed for the
"Oh, so soon ... less than three weeks from now!"
Morrison affected to feel a note of disapproval in her voice, and said
with his faint smile, "You can hardly blame me for not wishing to
"Oh, no _blame!_" she denied his inference. "After all it's over a
month since the engagement was announced, and who knows how much
longer before that you and Molly knew about it. No. I'm not one who
believes in long engagements. The shorter the better."
Sylvia saw an opportunity to emerge with an appearance of ease from a
silence that might seem ungracious. It was an enforced manoeuver with
which the past weeks had made her wearily familiar. "Aunt Victoria's
hitting at Arnold and Judith over your head," she said to Morrison.
"It's delicious, the way Tantine shows herself, for all her veneer of
modernity, entirely nineteen century in her impatience of Judith's
work. Now that there's a chance to escape from it into the blessed
haven of idle matrimony, she can't see why Judith doesn't give up her
lifetime dream and marry Arnold tomorrow."
Somewhat to her surprise, her attempt at playfulness had no notable
success. The intent of her remarks received from her aunt and Morrison
the merest formal recognition of a hasty, dim smile, and with one
accord they looked at once in another direction. "And after the
wedding?" Mrs. Marshall-Smith inquired--"or is that a secret?"
"Oh no, when one belongs to Molly's exalted class or is about to be
elevated into it, nothing is secret. I'm quite sure that the society
editor of the _Herald_ knows far better than I the names of the hotels
in Jamaica we're to frequent."
"Oh! Jamaica! How ... how ... original!" Mrs. Marshall-Smith cast
about her rather desperately for a commendatory adjective.
"Yes, quite so, isn't it?" agreed Morrison. "It's Molly's idea. She
_is_ original, you know. It's one of her greatest charms. She didn't
want to go to Europe because there is so much to see there, to do. She
said she wanted a honeymoon and not a personally conducted trip."
They all laughed again, and Sylvia said: "How _like_ Molly! How
clever! Nobody does her thinking for her!"
"The roads in Jamaica are excellent for motoring, too, I hear," added
Morrison. "That's another reason, of course."
Page gave a great laugh. "Well, as Molly's cousin, let me warn you!
Molly driving a car in Jamaica will be like Pavlova doing a bacchante
on the point of a needle! You'll have to keep a close watch on her to
see that she doesn't absentmindedly dash across the island and jump
off the bank right on into the ocean."
"Where does F. Morrison, house-furnishing-expert, come in?" asked Mrs.
"After the wedding, after Jamaica," said Morrison. "We're to come back
to New York and for a few months impose on the good nature of Molly's
grandfather's household, while we struggle with workmen _et al_.
The Montgomery house on Fifth Avenue, that's shut up for so many
years,--ever since the death of Molly's parents,--is the one we've
settled on. It's very large, you know. It has possibilities. I have
a plan for remodeling it and enlarging it with a large inner court,
glass-roofed--something slightly Saracenic about the arches--and what
is now a suite of old-fashioned parlors on the north side is to
be made into a long gallery. There'll be an excellent light for
paintings. I've secured from Duveen a promise for some tapestries
I've admired for a long time--Beauvais, not very old, Louis XVII--but
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