Chapter XIX
 

Barry went straight up to the Hall, but Sidney was not there. Joanna and Ellen, busily murmuring over "Flower Ladies" on the wide terrace steps, told him that Mother was to be late to supper, and, with obviously forced hospitality and one eye upon their little families of inverted roses and hollyhocks, asked him to wait. Barry thanked them, but couldn't wait.

He went like a man in a dream down River Street, past gardens that glowed with fragrant beauty, and under the great trees and the warm, sunset sky. And what a good world it seemed to be alive in, and what a friendly village in which to find work and love and content. A dozen returning householders, stopping at their gates, wanted the news of his venture, a dozen freshly-clad, interested women, watering lawns in the shade, called out to wish him good fortune. And always, before his eyes, the thought of the vanished millions danced like a star. She was not infinitely removed, she was not set apart by great fortune, she was only the sweetest and best of women, to be wooed and won like any other. He ran upstairs and flung open the door of the little bare new office of the Mail, like an impetuous boy. There was no one there. But a wide white hat with a yellow rose pinned on it hung above the new oak desk in the corner, and his heart rose at the sight. His own desk had an improvised drop light hung over it; he lowered the typewriter from his cramped arm upon a mass of clippings and notes. Beyond this room was the great bare loft, where two or three oily men were still toiling in the fading light over the establishing of the old Star press. Sashes had been taken from one of the big windows to admit the entrance of the heavier parts; thick pulley ropes dangled at the sill. Great unopened bundles of gray paper filled the center of the floor, a slim amused youth was putting the finishing touches to a telephone on the wall, and Sidney, bare-headed, very business-like and keenly interested, was watching everybody and making suggestions. She greeted Barry with a cheerful wave of the hand.

"There you are!" she said, relievedly. "Come and see what you think of this. Do you know this office is going to be much nicer than the old one? How goes everything with you?"

"Like lightning!" he answered. "At this rate, there's nothing to it at all. Have the press boys showed up yet?"

"They are over at the hotel, getting their dinners," she explained. "And we have borrowed lamps from the hotel to use here this evening. Did you hear that Martin, of the Press, you know, has offered to send over the A.P. news as fast as it comes in? Isn't that very decent of him? Here's Miss Porter's stuff."

She sat down, and began to assort papers on her desk, quite absorbed in what she was doing. Barry, at his own desk, opened and shut a drawer or two noisily, but he was really watching her, with a thumping heart. Watching the bare brown head, the lowered lashes, the mouth that moved occasionally in time with her busy thoughts--

Suddenly she looked up, and their eyes met.

Without the faintest consciousness of what he did, Barry crossed the floor between them, and as, on an equally unconscious impulse, she stood up, paling and breathless, he laid his hand over hers on the littered desk, and they stood so, staring at each other, the desk between them.

"Sidney," he said incoherently, "who--where--where did your father's money go--who got it?"

She looked at him in utter bewilderment.

"Where did what--father's money? Who got it? Are you crazy, Barry?" she stammered.

"Ah, Sidney, tell me! Did it come to you?"

"Why--why--" She seemed suddenly to understand that there was some reason for the question, and answered quite readily: "It belonged to my father's first wife, Barry, most of it. And it went to her daughters, my step-sisters, they are older than I and both married-- "

"Then you're not worth eight million dollars?"

"I--? Why, you know I'm not!" Her eyes were at their widest. "Who ever said I was? I never said so!"

"But everyone in town thinks so!" Barry's great sigh of relief came from his very soul.

Sidney, pale before, grew very red. She freed her hands, and sat down.

"Well, they are very silly, then!" she said, almost crossly. And as the thought expanded, she added, "But I don't see how anyone could! They must have thought my letting them help me out with the Flower Show and begging for the Old Paloma girls was a nice piece of affectation! If I had eight million dollars, or one million, don't you suppose I'd be doing something, instead of puttering away with just the beginning of things!" The annoyed color deepened. "I hope you're mistaken, Barry," said she. "Why didn't you set them right?"

"I! Why, I thought so too!"

"Oh, Barry! What a hypocrite you must have thought me!" She buried her rosy face in her hand for a moment. Presently she rushed on, half indignantly, "--With all my talk about the sinfulness of American women, who persistently attempt a scheme of living that is far beyond their incomes! And talking of the needs of the poor all over the world, with all that money lying idle!"

"I thought of it chiefly as an absolute and immovable barrier between us," Barry said honestly, "and that was as far as my thinking went."

Her eyes met his with that curious courage she had when a difficult moment had to be faced.

"There is a more serious barrier than that between us," she reminded him gravely.

"Hetty!" he said stupidly. "But I told you--"

But he stopped short, realizing that he had not yet told her, and rather at a loss.

"You didn't tell me anything," she said, eyeing him steadily.

"Why," Barry's tone was much lower, "I meant to tell you first of all, but--you know what a day I have had! It seems impossible that I only left San Francisco this morning."

He brought his chair from his own desk, and sat opposite her, and, while the summer twilight outside deepened into dusk, unmindful of time, he went over the pitiful little story. Sidney listened, her serious eyes never leaving his face, her fine hands locked idly before her. The telephone boy and the movers had gone now, and there was silence all about.

"You have suffered enough, Barry; thank God it is all over!" she said, at the end, "and we know," she went on, with one of her rare revelations of the spiritual deeps that lay so close to the surface of her life, "we know that she is safe and satisfied at last, in His care." For a moment her absent eyes seemed to fathom far spaces. Barry abruptly broke the silence.

"For one year, Sidney," he said, in a purposeful, steady voice that was new to her, and that brought her eyes, almost startled, to his face, "for one year I'm going to show you what I can do. In that time the Mail will be where it was before the fire, if all goes well. And then--"

"Then--" she said, a little unsteadily, rising and gathering hat and gloves together, "then you shall come to me and tell me anything you like! But--but not now! All this is so new and so strange--"

"Ah, but Sidney!" he pleaded, taking her hands again, "mayn't I speak of it just this one day, and then never again? Let me think for this whole year that perhaps you will marry a country editor, and that we shall spend the rest of our lives together, writing and planning, and tramping through the woods, and picnicking with the kiddies on the river, and giving Christmas parties for every little rag-tag and bob-tail in Old Paloma!"

"But you don't want to settle down in this stupid village," she laughed tremulously, tears on her lashes, "at the ugly old Hall, and among these superficial empty-headed women?"

"Just here," he said, smiling at his own words, "in the sweetest place in the world, among the best neighbors! I never want to go anywhere else. Our friends are here, our work is here--"

"And we are here!" she finished it for him, laughing. Barry, with a great rising breath, put his arms about the white figure, and crushed her to him, and Sidney laid her hand on his shoulder, and raised her face honestly for his first kiss.

"And now let me go home to my neglected girls," she said, after an interval. "You have a busy night ahead of you, and your press boys will be here any minute."

But first she took a sheet of yellow copy paper, and wrote on it, "One year of silence. August thirtieth to August thirtieth." "Is this inclusive?" she asked, looking up.

"Exclusive," said Barry, firmly.

"Exclusive," she echoed obediently. And when she had added the word, she folded the sheet and gave it to Barry. "There is a little reminder for you," said she.

Barry went down to the street door with her, to watch her start homeward in the sweet summer darkness.

"Oh, one more thing I meant to say," she said, as they stood on the platform of what had been the old station, "I don't know why I haven't said it already, or why you haven't."

"And that is, Madam--?" he asked attentively.

"It's just this," she swayed a little nearer to him--her laughing voice was no more than a whisper. "I love you, Barry!"

"Haven't I said that?" he asked a little hoarsely.

"Not yet."

"Then I say it," he answered steadily, "I love you, my darling!"

"Oh, not here, Barry--in the street!" was Mrs. Burgoyne's next remark.

But there was no moon, and no witnesses but the blank walls and shuttered windows of neighboring storehouses. And the silent year had not, after all, fairly begun.