Harriet and the Piper by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Richard Carter had called the place "Crownlands," not to please himself, or even his wife. But it was to his mother's newly born family pride that the idea of being the Carters of Crownlands made its appeal. The estate, when he bought it, had belonged to a Carter, and the tradition was that two hundred years before it had been a grant of the first George to the first of the name in America. Madame Carter, as the old lady liked to be called, immediately adopted the unknown owner into a vague cousinship, spoke of him as "a kinsman of ours," and proceeded to tell old friends that Crownlands had always been "in the family."
It was a home hardly deserving of the pretentious name, although it was beautiful enough, and spacious enough, for notice, even among the magnificent neighbours that surrounded it. It was of creamy brick, colonial in design, and set in splendid lawns and great trees on the bank of the blue Hudson. White driveways circled it, great stables and garages across a curve of green meadows had their own invisible domain, and on the shining highway there was a full mile of high brick fence, a marching line of great maples and sycamores, and a demure lodge beside the mighty iron gates.
Much of this was as Richard Carter had found it five years ago, but about the house, inside and out, his wife had made changes, had lent the place something of her own individuality and charm. It was Isabelle Carter who had visualized the window-boxes and the awnings, the walks where emerald grass spouted between the bricks, the terrace with its fat balustrade and shallow marble steps descending to the river. Great stone jars, spilling the brilliant scarlet of geraniums, flanked the steps, and the shadows of the mighty trees fell clear and sharp across the marble. And on a soft June afternoon, sitting in the silence and the fragrance with boats plying up and down the river, and birds twittering and flashing at the brim of the fountain, one might have dreamed one's self in some forgotten Italian garden rather than a short two hours' trip away from the busiest and most congested city of the world.
On one of the wide benches that were placed here and there on the descending terraces, in the late hours of an exquisite summer afternoon, a man and a woman were sitting. They had strolled slowly from the tennis court, where half-a-dozen young persons were violently exercising themselves in the sunshine, with the vague intention of reaching the tea table, on the upper level. But here, in the clear shade, Isabelle Carter had suddenly seated herself, and Anthony Pope, her cavalier, had thrown himself on the steps at her feet.
She was a woman worthy of the exquisite setting, and in her richly coloured gown, against the clear cream of the marble, the new green of the trees and lawns, and the brilliant hues of the flowers, she might well have turned an older head than that of the boy beside her. Brunette, with smooth cheeks deeply touched with rose, black eyes, and a warmly crimson mouth that could be at once provocative and relentless, she glowed like a flower herself in the sweet and enervating heat of the summer's first warm day. She wore a filmy gown of a dull cream colour, with daring great poppies in pink and black and gold embroidered over it; her lacy black hat, shadowing her clear forehead and smoke-black hair, was covered with the soft pink flowers. She was the tiniest of women, and the little foot, that, in its transparent silk stocking and buckled slipper, was close to Anthony's hand, was like a child's.
The man was twice her size, and as dark as she, earnest, eager, and to-day with a troubled expression clouding his face. It was to banish that look, if she might, that Isabelle had deliberately stopped him here.
She had been behaving badly toward him, and in her rather irresponsible and shallow way she was sorry for it. Isabelle was a famous flirt, her husband knew it, everyone knew it. There was always some man paying desperate court to her, and always half-a- dozen other men who were eager to be in his place. Now it was a painter, now a singer, now one of the men of her husband's business world. They sent her orchids and sweets, and odd bits of jewellery, and curious fans and laces, and pictures and brasses, and quaint pieces of china. They sent her tremendously significant letters, just the eloquent word or two, the little oddity of date or signature or paper that was to impress her with an individuality, or with the depth of a passion. Isabelle lived for this, went from one adventure to another with the naive confidence of a woman whose husband smiles upon her playing, and whose position is impregnable.
But this boy, this Anthony, was different. In the first place he was young, he was but twenty-six. In the second place he was, or had been, her own son's closest friend. Ward Carter was twenty- two, and his mother nineteen years older.
Yes, she was forty-one, although neither she nor her mirror admitted it readily. Anthony, she thought, must realize it. He must realize that his feeling for her was unthinkable, not to say absurd. It had taken her by surprise, this last conquest. She had known the boy only a few weeks. Ward had brought him home for a visit, at Easter, but Isabelle, besides admiring his unusual beauty and identifying him with the Pope fortune, had paid him small attention. She had been absorbed then in the wretched conclusion of the Foster affair. Derrick Foster had been distressing and annoying her unmercifully. After the warm and delightful friendship of several months, after luncheons and teas, opera and concerts in the greatest harmony, Derrick Foster had had the daring, the impudence, to imply--to insinuate--
Well, Isabelle had gotten rid of him, although she could not yet think of him without scarlet colour in her cheeks. And it had been on a particularly trying afternoon, when the unshed tears of anger and hurt pride had been making her fine eyes heavier and more mysterious than usual, that this nice boy, this handsome friend of Ward, had gone riding with her, and had shown such charming sympathy for her dark mood. They had had tea at the Country Club, and Tony, as she had begun at once to call him, had been wonderfully amusing and soothing. Isabelle, when they came back to the house, had turned impulsively in the hall, had laid her small hand, in its dashing gauntlet, upon his big shoulder.
"You've carried me over an ugly bog, Little Boy!" she had said. "I like you--such a lot!"
That was six weeks ago, but in those short six weeks the little boy that she had patronized had entirely upset her preconceived ideas of him. He was young, and he was absurd, but he did not know it, and Isabelle began to feel the difficulty of keeping the whole world from discovering it before he did. He made no secret of his passion. He came straight to her in any company; he never looked at anybody else. The young girls to whom she introduced him bored him, he was rude to them. To her own daughter Nina, seventeen years old, his attitude was almost paternal; he ignored Ward as if their friendship had never been. Toward Richard Carter, who was pleasantly hospitable toward the lad, he showed an icy and trembling politeness.
Isabelle saw now that she had made a mistake. She should have killed this affair at the very beginning. Tony was not like the older men, willing to play the game with just a little scorching of fingers. Appearances meant nothing to Tony, and she had let the play go too far now to convince him that she did not return something of his feeling.
Indeed, to her own amazement, his fire kindled fire in return. When he was not at Crownlands she could laugh at him, even though her thoughts were full of him. But when he was there, life to her was more radiant, more full, more glowing with colour and fragrance. The books he touched, the chair he had at breakfast, his young, lithe body in its golfing knickerbockers, or his sleek black head above the dull black of evening wear, haunted her oddly. He troubled her, but she had neither quite the power nor quite the desire to banish him.
She looked down at him now, content to be alone with her and at her feet, and a hundred mixed emotions stirred her. His feeling for her was not only pitiable and absurd in him, but it was rapidly reaching the point when it would make her absurd and pitiable, too. Nina, instinctively scenting the affair, had already expressed herself as "hating that idiot"; Ward had scowled, of late, at the mere mention of Tony's name. Even her husband, the patient Richard, seeing the youth ensconce himself firmly beside her in the limousine, had had aside his mild comment: "Is this young man a fixture in our family, dear?"
"You should be playing tennis, Tony," said Isabelle.
"Tennis!" He laughed; there was a slight movement of his broad shoulders.
"I think Miss Betty Allen was a little disappointed," the woman pursued. A look of distaste crossed Anthony's face.
"Please--Cherie!" he begged.
There was a silence brimming with sweetness and colour. Tony laid his hand against her knee, groped until her own warm, smooth fingers were in his own.
"Does Mr. Carter play golf to-morrow?" he asked, presently.
"I suppose so!"
"And you--what do you do?"
"Oh, I have a full day! People to lunch, friends of Madame Carter- "
The boy laughed triumphantly.
"I knew you'd say that!" he said. "Now, I'll tell you about to- morrow. You and I are going to slip away, at about one o'clock, and go off in the gray car. We'll go up to--well, somewhere, and we'll have our lunch under the trees. I'll have Hansen pack us something at the club. We'll be back at about four, for the tea callers, and they may have you until I come back for dinner. After dinner we'll walk on the terrace--as we did two wonderful, wonderful nights ago, and perhaps--" His voice had fallen to a rich and tender note, his eyes were rapt. "Perhaps," he said, "just before we go in, at the end of the terrace, you'll look up at the stars again--"
"Tony!" Isabelle interrupted, her face brilliant with colour. "My dear boy--my dear boy, listen to me--"
"Well?" he asked, looking up, as she paused.
"My dear," she said, with difficulty, "think where this is going to end."
He jerked his head impatiently.
"Oh, if you are going to begin that again!"
"My dear, I have to begin that again! In all reason--in all reason----"
"Isabelle, what in God's name has reason to do with it!" He knelt before her, and caught her hands, and Isabelle had a terrified fear that Ward, or Nina, or any one else, might start up or down the terrace steps and see him. "The instant you realize what you and I are to each other, my darling," he said, "you begin to talk of reason. Love isn't reason, Cherie. It's the divinest unreason in the world! Cherie, there's never been another woman for me; there never will be! It's nothing to me that there are obstacles-- I love them--I glory in them! I can't live without you; I don't want to! You're frightened now, you don't know how we can manage it. But I'll find the way. The only thing that matters is that you must belong to me--you shall belong to me--as I to you in every fibre of my being--"
"Tony--for Heaven's sake--!" Isabelle was in an agony. Somebody was approaching. He had gotten to his feet, and was gloomily staring at the river, when Nina Carter, followed by a great white Russian hound, came flying down the steps.
"Mother--" Nina, a tall, overgrown girl, with spectacles on her straight nose, and straight, light-brown hair in thick braids, stopped short and gave her mother's companion a look of withering distaste. "Mother," she began again, "aren't you coming up for tea? Granny's there, and the others, from tennis, and Mrs. Bellamy telephoned that she's bringing some people over, and there's nobody there but Granny and me!"
Nina was like her New England father, conscientious, serious, gravely condemnatory of the lax and the unconventional.
"Ask Betty Allen to pour," said Mrs. Carter, regaining her composure rapidly, and assuming the air of hostess at once.
"Betty went home for a tub," Nina explained. "She's coming back. But, Mother," she added, with a faintly reproachful and whining intonation, "really, you ought to be there--"
Mrs. Carter knew this as well as Nina. But she found the child extremely trying in this puritanical mood. Granting that this affair with Tony did her, Isabelle, small credit, at least it was not for Nina to sit in judgment. Rebellious, Isabelle fondled the loving nose of the hound with a small, brown, jewelled hand, and glanced dubiously at Tony's uncompromising back.
"Trot back, Nina love," said she to her daughter, cheerfully, "and ask Miss Harriet to come out and pour. I'll be there directly. We'll come right up. Run along!"
To Nina, in this ignominious dismissal, there was sweet. She adored "Miss Harriet," the Miss Field who had been her governess and her mother's secretary for the three happiest years of Nina's somewhat sealed young life. It would be "fun" to have Miss Field pour. Nina leaped obediently up the steps, with a flopping of thick braids and the scrape of sturdy shoes, and the sweet summer world was in silence again.
Isabelle sat on, stroking the hound, her soul filled with perplexity. The shadows were lengthening, the shafts of sunlight more bold and clear. The hound, surprised at the silence, whined faintly.
"I wish it might have been Nina!" Isabelle said. Anthony's eloquent back gave her sudden understanding of his fury. She got up, and went noiselessly toward him, and she felt a shudder shake him as she slipped her hand into his arm. "Ah, please, Tony," she pleaded, "what can I do?"
"Nothing!" he answered, suddenly pliant. "Nothing, of course." And he turned to her a boyish face stern with pain. "Of course you can do nothing, Cherie. I'm not such a--such a fool--"his voice broke angrily--"that I can't see that! Come on, we'll go up and have tea--with the Bellamys. And I--I'll be going to-night. I'll say good-bye to you now--and perhaps you'll be good enough to make my good-byes to the others--"
The youthfulness of it did not rob it of real dignity. Isabelle, wretchedly mounting the steps beside him, felt her heart contract with real pain. He would go away--it would all be over and forgotten in a few weeks--and yet, how she longed to comfort him, to make him happy again!
She looked obliquely at his set face, and what she saw there made her feel ashamed.
On the bright level of the upper terrace tea was merrily in progress. In the streaming afternoon light the scene was strikingly cheerful and pretty: the wide wicker chairs with their gay cretonne cushions, the over-shadowing green trees in heavy leaf, the women's many-coloured gowns and the men's cool whites and grays. On the broad white balustrade Isabelle's great peacock was standing, with his tail fanned to its amazing breadth; two maids, in their crisp black and white, were coming and going with silver and china on their trays.
Miss Field had duly come down to preside, and all was well. Isabelle, as she dropped into a chair, gave a sigh of relief; everyone was amused and absorbed and happy. Everyone, that is, except the magnificent and sharp-eyed old lady who sat, regally throned, near her, and favoured her immediately with a dissatisfied look. Old Madame Carter had her own good reasons for being angry, and she never spared any one available from a participation in her mood.
She was remarkably handsome, even at seventy-five; with a crown of puffed white hair, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, and an erect and finely preserved figure. Her silk gown flowed over her knees, and formed a rich fold about her shining slippers; a wide lace scarf was about her shoulders, and she wore an old-fashioned watchchain of heavy braided gold, and a great many handsome pins and rings. Her voice was theatrically deep and clear, and her manner vigorous and impressive.
"Well, my dear, your friends were naturally wondering what important matter kept their hostess away from her guests," she began. Isabelle had not been her daughter-in-law for more than twenty years for nothing. She shrugged and smiled carelessly, with an indifferent glance at the group. Ward's friends, the tennis- players, and old Doctor and Mrs. Potter and their niece, from next door. Nobody here of any especial importance!
"Harriet is managing very nicely," Isabelle said, contentedly, as Tony, with a sombre face and averted eyes, brought her her tea.
"So Ward seems to think," observed Ward's grandmother with acidity. Isabelle laughed indifferently. Her son, slender and tall, and with something of her own eagerness and fire in his sunburned young face, was beside Miss Field, who talked to him in a quiet aside while she busied herself with cups and spoons.
"Perfectly safe there!" Isabelle said.
"I should hope so!" old Madame Carter remarked, pointedly. "At least if there's any of our blood in his veins--but of course he's all Slocum. They used to say of my Aunt Georgina that she never married because the only man she ever loved was beneath her socially--"
Isabelle knew all about Aunt Georgina, and she looked wearily away. Tony, sighing elaborately, drew upon himself the old lady's fire.
"Why don't you go over and join the young people, Mr. Pope?" she asked, pleasantly. "Isabelle and I can manage very well without a cavalier. You're tired, Isabelle--I can always tell it. Be glad that you're too young to know what that means, Mr. Pope. Go over there--there's a chair next to Nina. What shall we suspect him of, Isabelle--a quarrel with pretty Miss Allen?--if he avoids the young people, and looks like such a thunder-cloud."
Isabelle sighed patiently.
"The Bellamys are coming in for awhile," she observed, with deliberate irrelevance, "and I hope they'll bring their Swami--or whatever he is, with them. He must be a queer creature."
"He's not a Swami, he's an artist," Tony said, drawn into a casual conversation much against his will. "Blondin--I've met him. He has a studio up on Fifty-ninth Street--goes in for poetry and musical interpretations and I don't know what else. Now I believe it's Indian philosophies--I can't bear him, he makes me sick!"
He relapsed into gloomy silence, and Isabelle put into her laugh something affectionate and soothing.
"He evidently lives by his wits," she suggested, "which is something you have never had to do!"
Tony scowled again. It was part of his charm for her that he was the spoiled darling of fortune. Handsome and young, and with no family ties to restrain him, he had recently come into his own enormous fortune. Isabelle knew that his New York apartment was fit for a prince, that his man servant was perfection, that he had his own pet affectations in the matter of monogrammed linen, Italian stationery, and specially designed speed cars. His manner with servants, his ready check book, his easy French, and his unruffled self-confidence in any imaginable contingency, coupled with his youth, had strong attraction for a woman conscious of the financial restrictions of her own early years and the limitations of her public school education.
"Why don't you go to the club and dress now, and come back and dine with us?" she said, in an undertone.
"Do you want me?" he asked, sulkily.
"I'm asking you!"
For answer he stood up, and smiled wistfully down upon her, with a hesitancy she knew well how to interpret in his eyes. She should not have asked him to dinner; he should not accept her invitation. Yet he had been longing so thirstily for just that permission, and she had been yearning so to give it! Happiness came back into both their hearts as he turned to go, and she gave him just a quick touch of a warm little hand in farewell. At such a moment, when her mood of heroism gave way to melting, Isabelle had a desperate sort of hope that one more concession would not alter the inevitable parting, whenever it came. This time--and this time-- and this time--must positively be the last.
Other guests had come in, and Miss Field was extremely busy, and Ward, helping her officially, was busy, too. She had indeed offered her place to Isabelle, but Isabelle, spurred by her mother-in-law's criticism, would not have disturbed her secretary for any consideration now.
"No, no--stay where you are, my dear!" she had said. And Miss Field remained.
"Fun to have you down here!" said Ward, in her ear.
Harriet Field had an aside with a maid regarding hot water. Then she gave Ward an indulgent, an older-sisterly glance. He was in years almost twenty-two, but at twenty-seven the young woman felt him ages her junior. Ward was broad and fair, his light brown hair was somewhat tumbled about from the tennis; his fine, strong young throat showed brown where the loose collar turned back. Even in his flat tennis shoes he stood a clear two inches above Miss Field, although she was not a small woman by any means. He was a joyous, irresponsible boy, and he and his mother's secretary had always been good friends since the day, four years ago now, when the silent, somewhat grave Harriet Field had first made her appearance in the family. Ward was so much a child in those days that Harriet used to go with him to pick out suits and shirts, and to buy matinee seats for him and his school friends, and they laughed now to remember his favourite and invariable luncheon order of potato salad and French pastries. Nina had had a nurse then, and Harriet practised French with both the boy and girl, but now the nurse was gone, and Ward could buy his own clothes, and Nina went to a finishing school. So Miss Field had made herself useful in new ways; she was quite indispensable now. The young people loved her; Richard Carter occasionally said to his wife, "Very clever--very pretty girl!" which was perhaps as close as he ever got to any domestic matter, and Isabelle confided to her almost all her duties and cares. She patronized Harriet prettily, and told her that she was too pretty to be getting up to the thirties without a fiance, but Harriet only smiled her inscrutable smile, and made no confidences on the subject of admirers. Nina, insatiably curious, had gathered no more than that Miss Harriet's father had been a college professor of languages, and that her only relative was a married sister, much older, who had four children, and lived in New Jersey.
She was a master of the art of keeping silent, this young woman, and but for her beauty she might have been as inconspicuous as she sincerely tried to be. But her simple gowns and her plainly massed hair only served to emphasize the extraordinary distinction of her appearance, and her utmost effort to obliterate herself could not quite keep her from notice. Men raised their eyebrows, with a significant puckering of the lips, when she slipped quietly through the halls; and women narrowed their eyes, and looked questioningly at one another. Isabelle, who was far too securely throned to be jealous of any one, sometimes told her that she would make a fortune on the stage, but old Mrs. Carter, who for reasons perfectly comprehensible in an old lady who had once been handsome herself, detested Harriet, and said to her daughter-in- law that in her opinion there was something queer about the girl.
There was nothing queer in her aspect to-day, at all events, as she demurely performed her duties at the tea table. To the occasional pleasant and surprised "Hello, Miss Field!" she returned a composed and unsmiling nod of greeting; for the rest, she poured and sweetened, and conferred with the maids, in a manner entirely businesslike.
She was of that always-arresting type that combines a warm dusky skin with blue eyes and fair hair. The eyes, in her case, were a soft smoky blue, set in thick and inky black lashes, and the hair was brassy gold, banded carelessly but trimly about her rather broad forehead. Her mouth was wide, deep crimson, thin-lipped; it had humorous possibilities all its own, and Nina and Ward thought her never so fascinating as when she developed them; it was a mouth of secrets and of mystery, of character, a mouth that had known the trembling of pain and grief, perhaps, but a firm mouth now, and a beautiful one.
And in the broad forehead and the cheek-bones, just a shade high, and the clearly pencilled brows and the clean modelling of the straight young chin, there was a certain openness and firmness, a fortuitous blending of form and proportion that would have made the head a perfect model for a coin, a wonderful study in pastels. Looking at her, an artist would have fancied her a bold and charming and boyish-looking little girl, fifteen years ago, with that Greek chin and that tawny mane; would have seen her sexless and splendid in her early teens, with a flat breast and an untamed eye. And a romancer might have wondered what paths had led her, in the superb realization of her beautiful womanhood, at twenty- seven, to this subordinate position in the home of a self-made rich man, and this conventional tea table on a terrace over the Hudson. The smoky blue eyes to-day were full of an idle content; the rounded breast rose and fell quietly under the plain checked gown with its transparent frills at wrists and throat. Harriet may have had her moments of rebellion, but this was not one of them. She had been here for four years; she had held more difficult and less well-paid positions for the four years before that; she had known fatigue and ingratitude, and snubs and injustices, as every business woman, especially in secretarial work, must know them, and she had no quarrel with this particular occasion. Indeed, Nina's open adoration, Ward's pointed attentions, and Isabelle's graciousness were making her feel particularly cheerful, and more than offset the old lady's disapproval, which was always more stimulating than otherwise to Harriet.
"Nearly half-past five, Nina," she said, presently. "Go and change and brush, that's a darling! You look rather tumbled."
Nina, reaching for a marron, obediently wandered away, and immediately the empty chair beside Harriet was taken by a newcomer, Richard Carter himself, the owner of all this smiling estate, who had come up from the little launch at the landing, had changed hastily into white flannels, Harriet saw at a glance, and had unexpectedly joined them for tea. His usual programme was to go off immediately for golf, and to make his first appearance in the family at dinner-time, but perhaps it had been unusually tiring in the city to-day--he looked pale and tired, and as if some of the grime of the sun-baked streets clung about him still.
"Tea, Mr. Carter?" Harriet ventured.
He was watching his wife with a sort of idle interest. She had to repeat her invitation.
"If you please, Miss Field! Tea sounded right, somehow, to me to- day. It's been a terrible day!"
"I can imagine it!" Harriet's voice was pleasantly commonplace. But the moment had its thrill for her. This lean, tall, tired man, with his abstract manner, his perfunctory courtesies, his nervous, clever hands, loomed in oddly heroic proportions in Harriet's life. His face was keen and somewhat lined under a smooth crest of slightly graying hair; he smiled very rarely, but there was a certain kindliness in his gray eyes, when Nina or Ward or his wife turned to him, that Harriet liked. He came and went quietly, absorbed in his business, getting in and out of his cars with a murmur to his chauffeur, disappearing with his golf sticks, presiding almost silently over his own animated dinner table. He was always well groomed, well dressed without being in the least conspicuous; always more or less tired when she saw him. In the evenings he smoked, listened to music, went early to bed. But he never failed to visit his mother, or pay her some little definite attention when she was with them; and when Madame Carter was in her New York apartment he called on her nearly every day.
For Harriet he had hardly a dozen words a year. He merely smiled kindly when she thanked him for the Christmas gift that bore his untouched card; if she went to her sister for a day or two, he gave her only a nod of greeting when she came back. Sometimes he thanked her for a small favour, briefly and indifferently; now and then asked with sharp interest about Nina's teeth or his mother's headache.
But Harriet had known other types of men, and for his very silences, for his indifference, for his loyalty to his own women, she had begun to admire him long ago. She had not been born in this atmosphere of pleasure and ease and riches; she was not entirely unfitted to judge a man. There was not much to awaken respect in the men she met at Crownlands, still less in the women. She liked Ward for his artless boyishness; forgave Anthony Pope much because he was straight and clean and self-respecting; but there were plenty of other men, spoiled and selfish, weak and stupid; men who amused and flattered Isabelle Carter perhaps, but among whom her husband loomed a very giant. Harriet had watched Richard Carter with a keenness of which she was hardly conscious herself, ready to detect the flaw, the weakness in his character, but she never found it, and after awhile she became his silent champion, his secret ally in all domestic matters, quick to see that his mail and his telephone messages were sacred, that his meals never were late, and that any small request, such as the use of the study for some unexpected conference, or the speedy sending of a telegram, was promptly granted.
Isabelle was always breezily civil to her husband; he had long ago vanished as completely from among the vital elements of her life as if he were dead, perhaps more than if he were dead. She thought--if she thought about him at all--that he never saw her little affairs; she supposed him perfectly satisfied with his home and children and club and business, and incidentally with his beautiful figurehead of a wife. They had quarrelled distressingly, several years ago, when he had bored her with references to her "duty," and her influence over Nina, and her obligations to her true self. But that had all stopped long since, and now Isabelle was free to sleep late, to dress at leisure, to make what engagements she pleased, to see the persons who interested her. Richard never interfered; never was there a more perfectly discreet and generous husband. Half the women Isabelle knew were attempting to live exactly as she did, to cultivate "suitors," and drift about in an atmosphere of new gowns and adulation and orchids and softly lighted drawing rooms, and incessant playing with fire; it was the accepted thing, in Isabelle's circle, and that she was more successful in it than other women was not at all to her discredit.
Even Harriet, who was in her secrets, who saw maid and masseuse and hair-dresser in desperate defence of Isabelle's beauty every morning, who knew just what scenes there were over gowns and cosmetics, and the tilt of hats--even Harriet admired her.
"Why not?" said Harriet sometimes to her sister, when she went to visit Linda, and the subject of the beautiful Mrs. Carter was under discussion. "She has a boy and a girl, her house runs perfectly, her husband adores her--"
"Oh, he can't adore her, Harriet!" Linda would protest. "No man could adore that sort of--of shallowness, and selfishness, and vanity--"
"Well, I assure you he does! I think that sort of thing keeps a man admiring a woman," the younger sister would maintain, airily. "He sees her looking like a picture all the time, he sees other men crazy about her--"
"Too much money!" Linda usually summarized, disapprovingly. But this was always fuel to Harriet's flame.
"Too much money? You can't have too much money! I've seen both sides-don't ever say that to me! There's nothing in this world but money, right down at the bottom. If you haven't any, you can't live, and the more you have the more decently and prettily--yes, and generously, too--you can live! Look at Madame Carter, she was doing her own work when she was my age--not that she ever mentions that, now! Can you tell me that she isn't a thousand times happier now, with her maids and her car and her dresses? And money did it- -and if you and Fred had two thousand, or twenty thousand, a month, instead of two hundred, do you mean to tell me your lives wouldn't be fuller, and richer, and happier? You shake your head, Linda, but that's just to make me furious, for you know it's true! I admire Mrs. Carter, and I assure you that if ever I do marry-- which as you know I won't--you may be very sure that money is the first thing I shall think about!"
It was their only ground for real dissension. Harriet usually was ready to laugh and forget it almost instantly; but Linda, who was deeply spiritual, never ceased to pray that all the dangers of life at Crownlands would pass safely over the little sister's beloved head, and that some real man, "like Fred," would win Harriet's turbulent and restless heart, after all.