The Gay Deceiver by Kathleen Thompson Norris
After the meat course, Mrs. Tolley and Min rather languidly removed the main platters and, by reaching backward, piled the dinner plates on the shining new oak sideboard. Thus room was made for the salad, which was always mantled in tepid mayonnaise, whether it was sliced tomatoes, or potatoes, or asparagus. After the salad there was another partial clearance, and then every available inch of the table was needed for peach pies and apple sauce and hot gingerbread and raspberries, or various similar delicacies, and the coffee and yellow cheese and soda-crackers with which the meal concluded.
By the time these appeared, on a hot summer evening, the wheezing clock in the kitchen would have struck six,--dinner was early at Kirkwood,--and the level rays of the sun would be pouring boldly in at the uncurtained western windows. The dining, room was bare, and not entirely free from flies, despite an abundance of new green screening at the windows. Relays of new stiff oak chairs stood against its walls, ready for the sudden need of occasional visitors. On the walls hung framed enlarged photographs of machinery, and factories, and scaffoldings, and the like. There was one of laborers and bosses grouped about great generators and water-wheels in transit, and another of a monster switchboard, with a smiling young operator, in his apron and overalls, standing beside it.
Mrs. Tolley sat at the head of the table--a big, joyous, vigorous widow, who had managed the Company House at Kirkwood ever since its erection two years before, and who had been an employee of the Light and Power Company, in one capacity or another, for some five years before that--or ever since, as she put it, "the juice got pore George." Mrs. Tolley loved every inch of Kirkwood; for her it was the captured dream.
Min Tolley, sitting next to her mother, loved Kirkwood, too, because she was going to marry Harry Garvey, who was one of the shift bosses at the plant. Harry sat next to Min. Then came her brother Roosy, ten years old; and then the Hopps--Mrs. Lou, and little Lou, spattering rice and potato all over himself and his chair, and big Lou, silently, deeply admiring them both. Then there were two empty chairs, for the Chisholms, the resident manager and superintendent and his sister, at the end of the table; and then Joe Vorse, the switchboard operator, and his little wife; and then Monk White, another shift boss; and lastly, at Mrs. Tolley's left, Paul Forster, newly come from New York to be Mr. Chisholm's stenographer and assistant.
Paul was the first to leave the table that night. He drank his coffee in three savage gulps, pushed back his crumpled napkin, and rose. "If you'll excuse me--" he began.
"You're cert'n'y excusable!" said Mrs. Tolley, elegantly--adding, when the door had closed behind him: "And leave me tell you right now that somebody was real fond of children to raise you!"
"An' I'm not planning to spend the heyday of my girlhood ironing napkins for you, Pauly Pet!" said Min, reaching for his discarded napkin and folding it severely into a wooden ring.
Paul did not hear these remarks, but he heard the laughter that greeted them, and he scowled as he selected a rocker on the front porch. He put his feet up on the rail, felt in one pocket for tobacco, in another for papers, and in a third for his match-case, and set himself to the congenial task of composing a letter in which he should resign from the employ of the Light and Power Company. It was a question of a broken contract, so it must be diplomatically worded. Paul had spent the five evenings since his arrival at Kirkwood in puzzling over the phrasing of that letter.
Below the porch, the hillside, covered with scrub-oak and chaparral and madrono trees, and the stumps where redwoods had been, dropped sharply to the little river, which came tumbling down from the wooded mountains to plunge roaring into one end of the big power- house, and which foamed out at the other side to continue its mad rush down the valley. The power-house, looming up an immense crude outline in the twilight, rested on the banks of the stream and stood in a rough clearing. A great gash in the woods above it showed whence lumber for buildings and fires came; another ugly gash marked the course of the "pole line" over the mountain. Near the big building stood lesser ones, two or three rough little unpainted cottages perched on the hill above it. There was a "cook-house," and a "bunk-house," and storage sheds, and Mrs. Tolley's locked provision shed, and the rough shack the builders lived in while construction was going on, and where the Hopps lived now, rent free.
Nasturtiums languished here and there, where some of the women had made an effort to fight the unresponsive red clay. Otherwise, even after two years, the power-house and its environs looked unfinished, crude, ugly. On all sides the mountains rose dark and steep, the pointed tops of the redwoods mounting evenly, tier on tier. Except for the lumber slide and the pole line, there was no break anywhere, not even a glimpse of the road that wound somehow out of the canyon- -up, up, up, twelve long miles, to the top of the ridge.
And even at the top, Paul reflected bitterly, there was only an unpainted farm-house, where the stage stopped three times a week with mail. From there it was a fifty-mile drive to town--a California country town, asleep in the curve of two sluggish little rivers. And from "town" to San Francisco it was almost a day's trip, and from San Francisco to the Grand Central Station at Forty-second Street it was nearly five days more.
Paul shoved his hands in his pockets and began again: "Light and Power Co.--Gentlemen."
Night came swiftly to Kirkwood. For a few wonderful moments the last of the sunlight lingered, hot and gold, on the upper branches of the highest trees along the ridge; then suddenly the valley was plunged in soft twilight, and violet shadows began to tangle themselves about the great shafts of the redwoods. The heat of the day dropped from the air like a falling veil. A fine mist spun itself above the river; bats began to wheel on the edge of the clearing.
With the coming of darkness every window in the place was suddenly alight. The Company House blazed with it; the great power-house doorway sent a broad stream of yellow into the deepening shadows of the night; the "cook-house," where Willy Chow Tong cooked for a score of "hands" and oilers, showed a thousand golden cracks in its rough walls. The little cottages on the hill were hidden by the glare from their dangling porch lights. Light was so plentiful, at this factory of light, that even the Hopps' barnlike home blazed with a dozen "thirty-twos."
"Nothing like having a little light on the subject, Mr. Fo'ster," said Mrs. Tolley, coming out to the porch. The Vorses had small children that they could not leave very long alone; so, when Min and her mother had reduced the kitchen to orderly, warm, soap-scented darkness every night, and wound the clock, and hung up their aprons, they went up to the Vorses' to play "five hundred."
"Seems's if I never could get enough light, myself," the matron continued agreeably, descending the porch steps. "Before I come here I never had nothing in my kitchen but an oil lamp and a reflector. Jest as sure as I'd be dishing up dinner, hot nights, that lamp would begin to flicker and suck--well, shucks! I'd look up at it and I'd say, 'Well, why don't you go out? Go ahead!'" Mrs. Tolley laughed joyously. "Well, one night--George--" she was continuing with relish, when Min pulled at her sleeve and, with a sort of affectionate impatience, said, "Oh, f've'vens' sakes ma!"
"Yes, I'm coming," said Mrs. Tolley, recalled. "Wish't you played 'five hundred,' Mr. Fo'ster," she added politely.
"I don't play either that or old maid," said Paul, distinctly. This remark was taken in good part by the Tolleys.
"Old maid's a real comical game," Min conceded mildly.
"Well, you won't be s'lunsum next week when the Chisholms get back," said Mrs. Tolley, unaffectedly, gathering up the skirt of her starched gown to avoid contact with the sudden heavy dews. "He's an awful nice feller, and she--she's twenty-six, but she's as jolly as a girl. I declare, I just love Patricia Chisholm."
"Twenty-six, is she?" said Paul, disgustedly, to himself, when the Tolleys had gone. "Only one woman--of any class, that is--in this forsaken hole, and she twenty-six!" And he had been thinking of this Patricia with a good deal of interest, he admitted resentfully. Paul was twenty-four, and liked slender little girls well under twenty.
"Lord, what a place!" he said, for the hundredth time.
He sat brooding in the darkness, discouraged and homesick. So he had sat for all his nights at Kirkwood.
The men at the cook-house were playing cards, silently, intently. The cook, serene and cool, was smoking in the doorway of his cabin. Above the dull roar of the river Paul could hear Min Tolley's cackle of laughter from the cottages a hundred yards away, and Mrs. Hopps crooning over her baby.
Presently the night shift went down to the powerhouse, the men taking great boyish leaps on the steep trail. Some of the lighted windows were blotted out--the Hopps', the cook-house light. The singing pole line above Paul's head ceased abruptly, and with a little rising whine the opposite pole line took up the buzzing currant. That meant that the copper line had been cut in, and the aluminum one would be "cold" for the night.
Minutes went by, eventless. Half an hour, an hour--still Paul sat staring into the velvet dark and wrestling with bitter discouragement and homesickness.
"Lord, what a place!" he said once or twice under his breath.
Finally, feeling cramped and chilly, he went stiffly indoors, through the hot, bright halls, that smelled of varnish and matting, to his room.
The next day was exactly like the five preceding days--hot, restless, aimless; and the next night Paul sat on the porch again, and listened to the rush of the river, and Min Tolley's laugh at the "five hundred" table, and the Hopps' baby's lullaby. And again he composed his resignation, and calculated that it would take three days for it to reach San Francisco, and another three for him to receive their acceptance of it--another week at least of Kirkwood!
On the seventh day the Chisholms rode down the trail that followed the pole line, and arrived in a hospitable uproar. Alan Chisholm, some five years older than Paul, was a fine-looking, serious, dark youth, a fellow of not many words, being given rather to silent appreciation of his sister's chatter than to speech of his own. Miss Chisholm was very tall, very easy in manner, and powdered just now to her eyelashes with fine yellow dust. Paul thought her too tall and too large for beauty, but he liked her voice, and the fashion she had of crinkling up her eyes when she smiled. He sat on the porch while the Chisholms went upstairs to brush and change, and thought that the wholesome noise of their splashing and calling, opening drawers, and banging doors was a pleasant change from the usual quiet of the house.
Miss Chisholm was the first to reappear. She was followed by Min and Mrs. Tolley, and was asking questions at a rate that kept both answering at once. Had her kodak films come? Was Minnie going to have some little sense and be married in a dress she could get some use out of? How were the guinea-pigs, the ducks, the vegetables, the caged fox, the "boys" generally, Roosy's ear, Consuelo Vorse's lame foot? Did Mrs. Tolley know that she had made a deep impression on the old fellow who drove the stage? "Oh, look at her blush, Min! Well, really!"
She came, delightfully refreshed by toilet waters and crisp linen, to take a deep rocker opposite Paul, and leaned luxuriously back, showing very trim feet shod in white.
"Admit that you've fallen in love with Kirkwood, Mr. Forster," said she.
"I can't admit anything of the sort," said Paul, firmly, but smiling because she was so very good to look at. He had to admit that he had never seen handsomer dark eyes, nor a more tender, more expressive and characterful mouth than the one that smiled so readily and showed so even a line of big teeth.
"Oh, you will!" she assured him easily. "There's no place like Kirkwood, is there, Alan?" she said to her brother, as he came out. He smiled.
"We don't think there is, Forster. My sister's been crazy about the place since we got here--that's eighteen months ago; and I'm crazy about it myself now!"
"Wait until you've slept out on the porch for a while," said Miss Chisholm, "and wait until you've got used to a plunge in the pool before breakfast every morning. Alan, you must take him down to the pool to-morrow, and I'll listen for his shrieks. Where are you going now--the power-house? No, thank you, I won't go. I'm going out to find something special to cook you for your suppers."
The something special was extremely delicious; Paul had a vague impression that there was fried chicken in it, and mushrooms, and cream, and sherry. Miss Chisholm served it from a handsome little copper blazer, and also brewed them her own particular tea, in a Canton tea-pot. Paul found it much pleasanter at this end of the table. To his surprise, no one resented this marked favoritism--Mrs. Tolley observing contentedly that her days of messing for men were over, and Mrs. Vorse remarking that she'd "orghter reely git out her chafing-dish and do some cooking" herself.
Paul found that Miss Chisholm possessed a leisurely gift of fun; she was droll, whether she quite meant to be or not. Everybody laughed. Mrs. Tolley became tearful with mirth.
"Now, this is the nicest part of the day," said Patricia, when they three had carried their coffee out to the porch and were seated. "Did you ever watch the twilight come, sitting here, Mr. Forster?"
"It seems to me I have never done anything else," said Paul. She gave him a keen glance over her lifted teaspoon; then she drank her coffee, set the cup down, and said:
"Well! How is that combination of vaudeville and railway station and zotrope that is known as New York?"
"Oh, the little old berg is all there," said Paul, lightly. But his heart gave a sick throb. He hoped she would go on talking about it. But it was some time before any one spoke, and then it was Alan Chisholm, who took his pipe out of his mouth to say:
"Patricia hates New York."
"I can't imagine any one doing that," Paul said emphatically.
"Well, there was a time when I thought I couldn't live anywhere else," said Alan, good-naturedly; "but there's a lot of the pioneer in any fellow, if he gives it a chance."
"Oh, I had a nice enough time in New York," said Patricia, lazily, "but it just wears you out to live there; and what do you get out of it? Now, here--well, one's equal to the situation here!"
"And then some," Paul said; and the brother and sister laughed at his tone.
"But, honestly," said Miss Chisholm, "you take a little place like Kirkwood, and you don't need a Socialist party. We all eat the same; we all dress about the same; and certainly, if any one works hard here, it's Alan, and not the mere hands. Why, last Christmas there wasn't a person here who didn't have a present--even Willy Chow Tong! Every one had all the turkey he could eat; every one a fire, and a warm bed, and a lighted house. Mrs. Tolley gets only fifty dollars a month, and Monk White gets fifty--doesn't he, Alan? But money doesn't make much difference here. You know how the boys adore Monk for his voice; and as for Mrs. Tolley, she's queen of the place! Now, how much of that's true of New York!"
"Oh, well, put it that way--" Paul said, in the tone of an offended child.
"Apropos of Mrs. Tolley's being queen of the place," said Alan to his sister, "it seems she's rubbing it into poor little Mollie Peavy. Len brought Mollie and the baby down from the ranch a week ago, and nobody's been near 'em."
"Who said so?" flashed Miss Chisholm, reddening.
"Why, I saw Len to-night, sort of lurking round the power-house, and he told me he had 'em in that little cottage, across the creek, where the lumbermen used to live. Said Mollie was in agony because nobody came near her."
"Oh, that makes me furious!" said Patricia, passionately. "I'll see about it to-morrow. Nobody went near her? The poor little thing!"
"Who are they?" said Paul.
"Why, she's a little blonde, sickly-looking thing of sixteen," explained Miss Chisholm, "and Len's a lumberman. They have a little blue-nosed, sickly baby; it was born about six weeks ago, at her father's ranch, above here. She was--she had no mother, the poor child--"
"And in fact, my sister escorted the benefit of clergy to them about two months ago," said Alan, "and the ladies of the Company House are very haughty about it."
"They won't be long," predicted Miss Chisholm, confidently. "The idea! I can forgive Mrs. Hopps, because she's only a kid herself; but Mrs. Tolley ought to have been big enough! However!"
"This place honestly can't spare you for ten minutes, Pat," her brother said.
"Well, honestly," she was beginning seriously, when she saw he was laughing at her, and broke off, with a shamefaced, laughing look for Paul. Then she announced that she was going down to the power-house, and, packing her thin white skirts about her, she started off, and they followed.
Paul was not accustomed to seeing a lady in the power-house, and thought that her enthusiasm was rather nice to watch. She flitted about the great barnlike structure like a contented child, insisted upon displaying the trim stock-room to Paul, demanded a demonstration of the switchboard, spread her pretty hands over the whirling water that showed under the glass of the water-wheels, and hung, fascinated, over the governors.
"I never get used to it," said Patricia, above the steady roaring of the river. "Do you realize that you are in one of the greatest force factories of the world? Look at it!" She swept with a gesture the monster machinery that shone and glittered all about them. "Do you realize that people miles and miles away are reading by lights and taking street-cars that are moved by this? Don't talk to me about the subway and the Pennsylvania Terminal!"
"Oh, come, now!" said Paul.
"Well!" she flared. "Do you suppose that anything bigger was ever done in this world than getting these things--these generators and water-wheels and the corrugated iron for the roof, and the door- knobs and tiles and standards and switchboard, and everything else, up to the top of the ridge from Emville and down this side of the ridge? I see that never occurred to you! Why, you don't know what it was. Struggle, struggle, struggle, day after day--ropes breaking, and tackle breaking, and roads giving way, and rain coming! Suppose one of these had slipped off the trail--well, it would have stayed where it fell. But wait--wait!" she said, interrupting herself with her delightful smile. "You'll love it as we do one of these days!"
"Not," said Paul to himself, as they started back to the house.
After that he saw Miss Chisholm every day, and many times a day; and she was always busy and always cheerful. She wanted her brother and Paul to ride with her up to the dam for a swim; she wanted to go to the woods for ferns for Min's wedding; she was going to make candy and they could come in. She packed delicious suppers, to be eaten in cool places by the creek, and to be followed by their smoking and her careless snatches of songs; she played poker quite as well as they; she played old opera scores and sang to them; she had jig-saw puzzles for slow evenings. She could not begin a game of what Mrs. Tolley called "halmy," with that good lady, without somehow attracting the boys to the table, where they hung, championing and criticising. Paul was more amused than surprised to find Mrs. Peavy having tea with the other ladies on the porch less than a week later. The little mother looked scared and shamed; but Mrs. Tolley had the baby, and was bidding him "love his Auntie Gussie," while she kissed his rounding little cheek. One night, some four weeks after his arrival, Patricia decided that Paul's room must be made habitable; and she and Alan and Paul spent an entire busy evening there, discussing photographs and books, and deciding where to cross the oars, and where to hang the Navajo blanket, and where to put the college colors. Miss Chisholm, who had the quality of grace and could double herself up comfortably on the floor like a child, became thoughtful over the class annual.
"The Dicky, and the Hasty Pudding!" she commented. "Weren't you the Smarty?"
Paul, who was standing with a well-worn pillow in his hand, turned and said hungrily:
"Oh, you know Harvard?"
"Why, I'm Radcliffe!" she said simply.
Paul was stupefied.
"Why, but you never said so! I thought yours was some Western college like your brother's!"
"Oh, no; I went to Radcliffe for four years," said she, casually. Then, tapping a picture thoughtfully, she went on: "There's a boy whose face looks familiar."
"Well, but--well, but--didn't you love it?" stammered Paul.
"I liked it awfully well," said Patricia. "Alan, you've got that one a little crooked," she added calmly. Paul decided disgustedly that he gave her up. His own heart was aching so for old times and old voices that it was far more pain than pleasure to handle all these reminders: the photographs, the yacht pennant, the golf-clubs, the rumpled and torn dominoes, the tumbler with "Cafe Henri" blown in the glass, the shabby camera, the old Hawaiian banjo. Oh, what fun it had all been, and what good fellows they were!
"It was lovely, of course," said Patricia, in a businesslike tone; "but this is real life! Cheer up, Paul," she went on (they had reached Christian names some weeks before). "I am going to have two darling girls here for two weeks at Thanksgiving, just from Japan. And think of the concert next month, with Harry Garvey and Laurette Hopps in a play, and Mrs. Tolley singing 'What Are the Wild Waves Saying?' Then, if Alan sends you to Sacramento, you can go to the theatre every night you're there, and pretend"--her eyes danced mischievously--"that you're going to step out on Broadway when the curtain goes down, and can look up the street at electric signs of cocoa and ginger beer and silk petticoats--"
"Oh, don't!" said Paul; and, as if she were a little ashamed of herself, she began to busy herself with the book-case, and was particularly sweet for the rest of the evening. But she wouldn't talk Radcliffe, and Paul wondered if her college days hadn't been happy; she seemed rather uneasy when he repeatedly brought up the subject.
But a day or two later, when he and she were taking a long ride and resting their horses by a little stream high up in the hills, she began to talk of the East; and they let an hour, and then another, go by, while they compared notes. Paul did most of the talking, and Miss Chisholm listened, with downcast eyes, flinging little stones from the crumbling bank into the pool the while.
A lazy leaf or two drifted upon the surface of the water, and where gold sunlight fell through the thick leafage overhead and touched the water, brown water-bugs flitted and jerked. Once a great dragon- fly came through on some mysterious journey, and paused for a palpitating bright second on a sunny rock. The woods all about were silent in the tense hush of the summer afternoon; even the horses were motionless, except for an occasional idle lipping of the underbrush. Now and then a breath of pine, incredibly sweet, crept from the forest.
Paul watched his companion as he talked. She was, as always, quite unself-conscious. She sat most becomingly framed by the lofty rise of oak and redwood and maple trees about her. Her sombrero had slipped back on her braids, and the honest, untouched beauty of her thoughtful face struck Paul forcibly. He wondered if she had ever been in love--what her manner would be to the man she loved.
"What did you come for, Paul?" She was ending some long sentence with the question.
"Come here?" Paul said. "Oh, Lord, there seemed to be reasons enough, though I can't remember now why I ever thought I'd stay."
"You came straight from college?"
"No," he said, a little uneasily; "no. I finished three years ago. You see, my mother married an awfully rich old guy named Steele, the last year I was at college; and he gave me a desk in his office. He has two sons, but they're not my kind. Nice fellows, you know, but they work twenty hours a day, and don't belong to any clubs,-- they'll both die rich, I guess,--and whenever I was late, or forgot something, or beat it early to catch a boat, they'd go to the old man. And he'd ask mother to speak to me."
"I see," said Patricia.
"After a while he got me a job with a friend of his in a Philadelphia iron-works," said the boy; "but that was a rotten job. So I came back to New York; and I'd written a sketch for an amateur theatrical thing, and a manager there wanted me to work it up--said he'd produce it. I tinkered away at that for a while, but there was no money in it, and Steele sent me out to see how I'd like working in one of the Humboldt lumber camps. I thought that sounded good. But I got my leg broken the first week, and had to wire him from the hospital for money. So, when I got well again, he sent me a night wire about this job, and I went to see Kahn the next day, and came up here."
"I see," she said again. "And you don't think you'll stay?"
"Honestly, I can't, Patricia. Honest--you don't know what it is! I could stand Borneo, or Alaska, or any place where the climate and customs and natives stirred things up once in a while. But this is like being dead! Why, it just makes me sick to see the word 'New York' on the covers of magazines--I'm going crazy here."
She nodded seriously.
"Yes, I know. But you've got to do something. And since your course was electrical engineering--! And the next job mayn't be half so easy, you know--!"
"Well, it'll be a little nearer Broadway, believe me. No, I'm sorry. I never knew two dandier people than you and your brother, and I like the work, but--!"
He drew a long breath on the last word, and Miss Chisholm sighed, too.
"I'm sorry," she said, staring at the big seal ring on her finger. "I tell you frankly that I think you're making a mistake. I don't argue for Alan's sake or mine, though we both like you thoroughly, and your being here would make a big difference this winter. But I think you've made a good start with the company, and it's a good company, and I think, from what you've said to-day, and other hints you're given me, that you'd make your mother very happy by writing her that you think you've struck your groove. However!"
She got up, brushed the leaves from her skirt, and went to her horse. They rode home through the columned aisles of the forest almost silently. The rough, straight trunks of the redwoods rose all about them, catching gold and red on their thick, fibrous bark from the setting sun. The horses' feet made no sound on the corduroy roadway.
For several days nothing more was said of Paul's going or staying. Miss Chisholm went her usual busy round. Paul wrote his letter of resignation and carried it to the dinner-table one night, hoping to read it later to her, and win her approval of its finely rounded sentences.
But a heavy mail came down the trail that evening, brought by the obliging doctor from Emville, who had been summoned to dress the wounds of one of the line-men who had got too close to the murderous "sixty thousand" and had been badly burned by "the juice." And after the letters were read, and the good doctor had made his patient comfortable, he proved an excellent fourth hand at the game of bridge for which they were always hungering.
So at one o'clock Paul went upstairs with his letter still unapproved. He hesitated in the dim upper hallway, wondering if Patricia, who had left the men to beer and crackers half an hour earlier, had retired, or was, by happy chance, still gossiping with Mrs. Tolley or Min. While he loitered in the hall, the door of her room swung slowly open.
Paul had often been in this room, which was merely a kind of adjunct to the sleeping-porch beyond. He went to the doorway and said, "Patricia!"
The room, wide and charmingly furnished, was quite empty. On the deep couch letters were scattered in a wide circle, and in their midst was an indentation as if some one had been kneeling on the floor with her elbows there. Paul noticed this with a curious feeling of unease, and then called softly again, "Patricia!"
No answer. He walked hesitatingly to his own room and to the window. Why he should have looked down at the dark path with the expectation of seeing her, he did not know; but it was almost without surprise that he recognized the familiar white ruffles and dark head moving away in the gloom. Paul unhesitatingly followed.
He followed her down the trail as far as he had seen her go, and was standing, a little undecidedly, wondering just which way she had turned, when his heart was suddenly brought into his throat by the sound of her bitter sobbing.
A moment later he saw her. She was sitting on a smooth fallen trunk, and had buried her face in her hands. Paul had never heard such sobs; they seemed to shake her from head to foot. Hardly would they lessen, bringing him the hope that her grief, whatever it was, was wearing itself out, when a fresh paroxysm would shake her, and she would abandon herself to it. This lasted for what seemed a long, long time.
After a while Paul cleared his throat, but she did not hear him. And again he stood motionless, waiting and waiting. Finally, when she straightened up and began to mop her eyes, he said, trembling a little:
Instantly she stopped crying.
"Who is that?" she said, with an astonishing control of her voice. "Is that you, Alan? I'm all right, dear. Did I frighten you? Is that you, Alan?"
"It's Paul," the boy said, coming nearer.
"Oh--Paul!" she said, relieved. "Does Alan know I'm here?"
"No," he reassured her; then, affectionately: "What is it, Pat?"
"Just--just that I happen to be a fool!" she said huskily, but with an effort at lightness. Paul sat down, beginning to see in the darkness. "I'm all right now," went on Patricia, hardily. "I just--I suppose I just had the blues." She put out a smooth hand in the darkness, and patted Paul's appreciatively. "I'm ashamed of myself!" said she, catching a little sob, as she spoke, like a child.
"Bad news--in your letters?" he hazarded.
"No, good; that's the trouble!" she said, with her whimsical smile, but with trembling lips. "You see, all my friends are in the East, and some of them happened to be at the same house-party at Newport, and they--they were saying how they missed me," her voice shook a little, "and--and it seems they toasted me, all standing, and--and-- " And suddenly she gave up the fight for control, and began to cry bitterly again. "Oh, I'm so homesick!" she sobbed, "and I'm so lonesome! And I'm so sick, sick, sick of this place! Oh, I think I'll go crazy if I can't go home! I bear it and I bear it," said Patricia, in a sort of desperate self-defence, "and then the time comes when I simply can't bear it!" And again she wept luxuriously, and Paul, in an agony of sympathy, patted her hand.
"My heart is just breaking!" she burst out again, her tears and words tumbling over each other. "It--it isn't right! I want my friends, and I want my youth--I'll never be twenty-six again! I want to put my things into a suit-case and go off with the other girls for country visits--and I want to dance!" She put her head down again, and after a moment Paul ventured a timid, "Patricia, dear, don't."
He thought she had not heard him, but after a moment, he was relieved to see her resolutely straighten up again, and dry her eyes, and push up her tumbled hair.
"Well, I really will stop," she said determinedly. "This will not do! If Alan even suspected! But, you see, I'm naturally a sociable person, and I had--well, I don't suppose any girl ever had such a good time in New York! My aunt did for me just what she did for her own daughters--a dance at Sherry's, and dinners--! Paul, I'd give a year of my life just to drive down the Avenue again on a spring afternoon, and bow to every one, and have tea somewhere, and smell the park--oh, did you ever smell Central Park in the spring?"
Both were silent. After a long pause Paul said:
"Why do you stay? You've not got to ask a stepfather for a job."
"Alan," she answered simply. "No, don't say that," she interrupted him quickly; "I'm nothing of the sort! But my mother--my mother, in a way, left Alan and me to each other, and I have never done anything for Alan. I went to the Eastern aunt, and he stayed here; and after a while he drifted East--and he had too much money, of course! And I wasn't half affectionate enough; he had his friends and I had mine! Well then he got ill, and first it was just a cold and then it was, suddenly--don't you know?--a question of consultations, and a dry climate, and no dinners or wine or late hours. And Alan refused--refused flat to go anywhere, until I said I'd love to come! I'll never forget the night it came over me that I ought to. I am--I was--engaged, you know?" She paused.
Paul cleared his throat. "No, I didn't know," he said.
"It wasn't announced," said Miss Chisholm. "He's a good deal older than I. A doctor." There was a long silence. "He said he would wait, and he will," she said softly, ending it. "It's not forever, you know. Another year or two, and he'll come for me! Alan's quite a different person now. Another two years!" She jumped up, with a complete change of manner. "Well, I'm over my nonsense for another while!" said she. "And it's getting cold. I can't tell you how I've enjoyed letting off steam this way, Paul!"
"Whenever we feel this way," he said, giving her a steadying hand in the dark, "we'll come out for a jaw. But cheer up; we'll have lots of fun this winter!"
"Oh, lots!" she said contentedly. They entered the dark, open doorway together.
Patricia went ahead of him up the stairs, and at the top she turned, and Paul felt her hand for a second on his shoulder, and felt something brush his forehead that was all fragrance and softness and warmth.
Then she was gone.
Paul went into his room, and stood at the window, staring out into the dark. Only the door of the power-house glowed smoulderingly, and a broad band of light fell from Miss Chisholm's window.
He stood there until this last light suddenly vanished. Then he took a letter from his pocket, and began to tear it methodically to pieces. While he did so Paul began to compose another letter, this time to his mother.