A Girl Of The Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XIX. Wherein Philip Ammon Gives a Ball in Honour of Edith Carr, and Hart Henderson Appears on the Scene
Edith Carr stood in a vine-enclosed side veranda of the Lake Shore Club House waiting while Philip Ammon gave some important orders. In a few days she would sail for Paris to select a wonderful trousseau she had planned for her marriage in October. To-night Philip was giving a club dance in her honour. He had spent days in devising new and exquisite effects in decorations, entertainment, and supper. Weeks before the favoured guests had been notified. Days before they had received the invitations asking them to participate in this entertainment by Philip Ammon in honour of Miss Carr. They spoke of it as "Phil's dance for Edith!"
She could hear the rumble of carriages and the panting of automobiles as in a steady stream they rolled to the front entrance. She could catch glimpses of floating draperies of gauze and lace, the flash of jewels, and the passing of exquisite colour. Every one was newly arrayed in her honour in the loveliest clothing, and the most expensive jewels they could command. As she thought of it she lifted her head a trifle higher and her eyes flashed proudly.
She was robed in a French creation suggested and designed by Philip. He had said to her: "I know a competent judge who says the distinctive feature of June is her exquisite big night moths. I want you to be the very essence of June that night, as you will be the embodiment of love. Be a moth. The most beautiful of them is either the pale-green Luna or the Yellow Imperialis. Be my moon lady, or my gold Empress."
He took her to the museum and showed her the moths. She instantly decided on the yellow. Because she knew the shades would make her more startlingly beautiful than any other colour. To him she said: "A moon lady seems so far away and cold. I would be of earth and very near on that night. I choose the Empress."
So she matched the colours exactly, wrote out the idea and forwarded the order to Paquin. To-night when Philip Ammon came for her, he stood speechless a minute and then silently kissed her hands.
For she stood tall, lithe, of grace inborn, her dark waving hair high piled and crossed by gold bands studded with amethyst and at one side an enamelled lavender orchid rimmed with diamonds, which flashed and sparkled. The soft yellow robe of lightest weight velvet fitted her form perfectly, while from each shoulder fell a great velvet wing lined with lavender, and flecked with embroidery of that colour in imitation of the moth. Around her throat was a wonderful necklace and on her arms were bracelets of gold set with amethyst and rimmed with diamonds. Philip had said that her gloves, fan, and slippers must be lavender, because the feet of the moth were that colour. These accessories had been made to order and embroidered with gold. It had been arranged that her mother, Philip's, and a few best friends should receive his guests. She was to appear when she led the grand march with Philip Ammon. Miss Carr was positive that she would be the most beautiful, and most exquisitely gowned woman present. In her heart she thought of herself as "Imperialis Regalis," as the Yellow Empress. In a few moments she would stun her world into feeling it as Philip Ammon had done, for she had taken pains that the history of her costume should be whispered to a few who would give it circulation. She lifted her head proudly and waited, for was not Philip planning something unusual and unsurpassed in her honour? Then she smiled.
But of all the fragmentary thoughts crossing her brain the one that never came was that of Philip Ammon as the Emperor. Philip the king of her heart; at least her equal in all things. She was the Empress--yes, Philip was but a mere man, to devise entertainments, to provide luxuries, to humour whims, to kiss hands!
"Ah, my luck!" cried a voice behind her.
Edith Carr turned and smiled.
"I thought you were on the ocean," she said.
"I only reached the dock," replied the man, "when I had a letter that recalled me by the first limited."
"Oh! Important business?"
"The only business of any importance in all the world to me. I'm triumphant that I came. Edith, you are the most superb woman in every respect that I have ever seen. One glimpse is worth the whole journey."
"You like my dress?" She moved toward him and turned, lifting her arms. "Do you know what it is intended to represent?"
"Yes, Polly Ammon told me. I knew when I heard about it how you would look, so I started a sleuth hunt, to get the first peep. Edith, I can become intoxicated merely with looking at you to-night."
He half-closed his eyes and smilingly stared straight at her. He was taller than she, a lean man, with close-cropped light hair, steel-gray eyes, a square chin and "man of the world" written all over him.
Edith Carr flushed. "I thought you realized when you went away that you were to stop that, Hart Henderson," she cried.
"I did, but this letter of which I tell you called me back to start it all over again."
She came a step closer. "Who wrote that letter, and what did it contain concerning me?" she demanded.
"One of your most intimate chums wrote it. It contained the hazard that possibly I had given up too soon. It said that in a fit of petulance you had broken your engagement with Ammon twice this winter, and he had come back because he knew you did not really mean it. I thought deeply there on the dock when I read that, and my boat sailed without me. I argued that anything so weak as an engagement twice broken and patched up again was a mighty frail affair indeed, and likely to smash completely at any time, so I came on the run. I said once I would not see you marry any other man. Because I could not bear it, I planned to go into exile of any sort to escape that. I have changed my mind. I have come back to haunt you until the ceremony is over. Then I go, not before. I was insane!"
The girl laughed merrily. "Not half so insane as you are now, Hart!" she cried gaily. "You know that Philip Ammon has been devoted to me all my life. Now I'll tell you something else, because this looks serious for you. I love him with all my heart. Not while he lives shall he know it, and I will laugh at him if you tell him, but the fact remains: I intend to marry him, but no doubt I shall tease him constantly. It's good for a man to be uncertain. If you could see Philip's face at the quarterly return of his ring, you would understand the fun of it. You had better have taken your boat."
"Possibly," said Henderson calmly. "But you are the only woman in the world for me, and while you are free, as I now see my light, I remain near you. You know the old adage."
"But I'm not `free!'" cried Edith Carr. "I'm telling you I am not. This night is my public acknowledgment that Phil and I are promised, as our world has surmised since we were children. That promise is an actual fact, because of what I just have told you. My little fits of temper don't count with Phil. He's been reared on them. In fact, I often invent one in a perfect calm to see him perform. He is the most amusing spectacle. But, please, please, do understand that I love him, and always shall, and that we shall be married."
"Just the same, I'll wait and see it an accomplished fact," said Henderson. "And Edith, because I love you, with the sort of love it is worth a woman's while to inspire, I want your happiness before my own. So I am going to say this to you, for I never dreamed you were capable of the feeling you have displayed for Phil. If you do love him, and have loved him always, a disappointment would cut you deeper than you know. Go careful from now on! Don't strain that patched engagement of yours any further. I've known Philip all my life. I've known him through boyhood, in college, and since. All men respect him. Where the rest of us confess our sins, he stands clean. You can go to his arms with nothing to forgive. Mark this thing! I have heard him say, `Edith is my slogan,' and I have seen him march home strong in the strength of his love for you, in the face of temptations before which every other man of us fell. Before the gods! that ought to be worth something to a girl, if she really is the delicate, sensitive, refined thing she would have man believe. It would take a woman with the organism of an ostrich to endure some of the men here to-night, if she knew them as I do; but Phil is sound to the core. So this is what I would say to you: first, your instincts are right in loving him, why not let him feel it in the ways a woman knows? Second, don't break your engagement again. As men know the man, any of us would be afraid to the soul. He loves you, yes! He is long-suffering for you, yes! But men know he has a limit. When the limit is reached, he will stand fast, and all the powers can't move him. You don't seem to think it, but you can go too far!"
"Is that all?" laughed Edith Carr sarcastically.
"No, there is one thing more," said Henderson. "Here or here-after, now and so long as I breathe, I am your slave. You can do anything you choose and know that I will kneel before you again. So carry this in the depths of your heart; now or at any time, in any place or condition, merely lift your hand, and I will come. Anything you want of me, that thing will I do. I am going to wait; if you need me, it is not necessary to speak; only give me the faintest sign. All your life I will be somewhere near you waiting for it."
"Idjit! You rave!" laughed Edith Carr. "How you would frighten me! What a bugbear you would raise! Be sensible and go find what keeps Phil. I was waiting patiently, but my patience is going. I won't look nearly so well as I do now when it is gone."
At that instant Philip Ammon entered. He was in full evening dress and exceptionally handsome. "Everything is ready," he said; "they are waiting for us to lead the march. It is formed."
Edith Carr smiled entrancingly. "Do you think I am ready?"
Philip looked what he thought, and offered his arm. Edith Carr nodded carelessly to Hart Henderson, and moved away. Attendants parted the curtains and the Yellow Empress bowing right and left, swept the length of the ballroom and took her place at the head of the formed procession. The large open dancing pavilion was draped with yellow silk caught up with lilac flowers. Every corner was filled with bloom of those colours. The music was played by harpers dressed in yellow and violet, so the ball opened.
The midnight supper was served with the same colours and the last half of the programme was being danced. Never had girl been more complimented and petted in the same length of time than Edith Carr. Every minute she seemed to grow more worthy of praise. A partners' dance was called and the floor was filled with couples waiting for the music. Philip stood whispering delightful things to Edith facing him. From out of the night, in at the wide front entrance to the pavilion, there swept in slow wavering flight a large yellow moth and fluttered toward the centre cluster of glaring electric lights. Philip Ammon and Edith Carr saw it at the same instant.
"Why, isn't that----?" she began excitedly.
"It's a Yellow Emperor! This is fate!" cried Philip. "The last one Elnora needs for her collection. I must have it! Excuse me!"
He ran toward the light. "Hats! Handkerchiefs! Fans! Anything!" he panted. "Every one hold up something and stop that! It's a moth; I've got to catch it!"
"It's yellow! He wants it for Edith!" ran in a murmur around the hall. The girl's face flushed, while she bit her lips in vexation.
Instantly every one began holding up something to keep the moth from flying back into the night. One fan held straight before it served, and the moth gently settled on it.
"Hold steady!" cried Philip. "Don't move for your life!" He rushed toward the moth, made a quick sweep and held it up between his fingers. "All right!" he called. "Thanks, every one! Excuse me a minute."
He ran to the office.
"An ounce of gasolene, quick!" he ordered. "A cigar box, a cork, and the glue bottle."
He poured some glue into the bottom of the box, set the cork in it firmly, dashed the gasolene over the moth repeatedly, pinned it to the cork, poured the remainder of the liquid over it, closed the box, and fastened it. Then he laid a bill on the counter.
"Pack that box with cork around it, in one twice its size, tie securely and express to this address at once."
He scribbled on a sheet of paper and shoved it over.
"On your honour, will you do that faithfully as I say?" he asked the clerk.
"Certainly," was the reply.
"Then keep the change," called Philip as he ran back to the pavilion.
Edith Carr stood where he left her, thinking rapidly. She heard the murmur that arose when Philip started to capture the exquisite golden creature she was impersonating. She saw the flash of surprise that went over unrestrained faces when he ran from the room, without even showing it to her. "The last one Elnora needs," rang in her ears. He had told her that he helped collect moths the previous summer, but she had understood that the Bird Woman, with whose work Miss Carr was familiar, wanted them to put in a book.
He had spoken of a country girl he had met who played the violin wonderfully, and at times, he had shown a disposition to exalt her as a standard of womanhood. Miss Carr had ignored what he said, and talked of something else. But that girl's name had been Elnora. It was she who was collecting moths! No doubt she was the competent judge who was responsible for the yellow costume Philip had devised. Had Edith Carr been in her room, she would have torn off the dress at the thought.
Being in a circle of her best friends, which to her meant her keenest rivals and harshest critics, she grew rigid with anger. Her breath hurt her paining chest. No one thought to speak to the musicians, and seeing the floor filled, they began the waltz. Only part of the guests could see what had happened, and at once the others formed and commenced to dance. Gay couples came whirling past her.
Edith Carr grew very white as she stood alone. Her lips turned pale, while her dark eyes flamed with anger. She stood perfectly still where Philip had left her, and the approaching men guided their partners around her, while the girls, looking back, could be seen making exclamations of surprise.
The idolized only daughter of the Carr family hoped that she would drop dead from mortification, but nothing happened. She was too perverse to step aside and say that she was waiting for Philip. Then came Tom Levering dancing with Polly Ammon. Being in the scales with the Ammon family, Tom scented trouble from afar, so he whispered to Polly: "Edith is standing in the middle of the floor, and she's awful mad about something."
"That won't hurt her," laughed Polly. "It's an old pose of hers. She knows she looks superb when she is angry, so she keeps herself furious half the time on purpose."
"She looks like the mischief!" answered Tom. "Hadn't we better steer over and wait with her? She's the ugliest sight I ever saw!"
"Why, Tom!" cried Polly. "Stop, quickly!"
They hurried to Edith.
"Come dear," said Polly. "We are going to wait with you until Phil returns. Let's go after a drink. I am so thirsty!"
"Yes, do!" begged Tom, offering his arm. "Let's get out of here until Phil comes."
There was the opportunity to laugh and walk away, but Edith Carr would not accept it.
"My betrothed left me here," she said. "Here I shall remain until he returns for me, and then--he will be my betrothed no longer!"
Polly grasped Edith's arm.
"Oh, Edith!" she implored. "Don't make a scene here, and to-night. Edith, this has been the loveliest dance ever given at the club house. Every one is saying so. Edith! Darling, do come! Phil will be back in a second. He can explain! It's only a breath since I saw him go out. I thought he had returned."
As Polly panted these disjointed ejaculations, Tom Levering began to grow angry on her account.
"He has been gone just long enough to show every one of his guests that he will leave me standing alone, like a neglected fool, for any passing whim of his. Explain! His explanation would sound well! Do you know for whom he caught that moth? It is being sent to a girl he flirted with all last summer. It has just occurred to me that the dress I am wearing is her suggestion. Let him try to explain!"
Speech unloosed the fountain. She stripped off her gloves to free her hands. At that instant the dancers parted to admit Philip. Instinctively they stopped as they approached and with wondering faces walled in Edith and Philip, Polly and Tom.
"Mighty good of you to wait!" cried Philip, his face showing his delight over his success in capturing the Yellow Emperor. "I thought when I heard the music you were going on."
"How did you think I was going on?" demanded Edith Carr in frigid tones.
"I thought you would step aside and wait a few seconds for me, or dance with Henderson. It was most important to have that moth. It completes a valuable collection for a person who needs the money. Come!"
He held out his arms.
"I `step aside' for no one!" stormed Edith Carr. "I await no other girl's pleasure! You may `complete the collection' with that!"
She drew her engagement ring from her finger and reached to place it on one of Philip's outstretched hands. He saw and drew back. Instantly Edith dropped the ring. As it fell, almost instinctively Philip caught it in air. With amazed face he looked closely at Edith Carr. Her distorted features were scarcely recognizable. He held the ring toward her.
"Edith, for the love of mercy, wait until I can explain," he begged. "Put on your ring and let me tell you how it is."
"I know perfectly `how it is,'" she answered. "I never shall wear that ring again."
"You won't even hear what I have to say? You won't take back your ring?" he cried.
"Never! Your conduct is infamous!"
"Come to think of it," said Philip deliberately, "it is `infamous' to cut a girl, who has danced all her life, out of a few measures of a waltz. As for asking forgiveness for so black a sin as picking up a moth, and starting it to a friend who lives by collecting them, I don't see how I could! I have not been gone three minutes by the clock, Edith. Put on your ring and finish the dance like a dear girl."
He thrust the glittering ruby into her fingers and again held out his arms. She dropped the ring, and it rolled some distance from them. Hart Henderson followed its shining course, and caught it before it was lost.
"You really mean it?" demanded Philip in a voice as cold as hers ever had been.
"You know I mean it!" cried Edith Carr.
"I accept your decision in the presence of these witnesses," said Philip Ammon. "Where is my father?" The elder Ammon with a distressed face hurried to him. "Father, take my place," said Philip. "Excuse me to my guests. Ask all my friends to forgive me. I am going away for awhile."
He turned and walked from the pavilion. As he went Hart Henderson rushed to Edith Carr and forced the ring into her fingers. "Edith, quick. Come, quick!" he implored. "There's just time to catch him. If you let him go that way, he never will return in this world. Remember what I told you."
"Great prophet! aren't you, Hart?" she sneered. "Who wants him to return? If that ring is thrust upon me again I shall fling it into the lake. Signal the musicians to begin, and dance with me."
Henderson put the ring into his pocket, and began the dance. He could feel the muscular spasms of the girl in his arms, her face was cold and hard, but her breath burned with the scorch of fever. She finished the dance and all others, taking Phil's numbers with Henderson, who had arrived too late to arrange a programme. She left with the others, merely inclining her head as she passed Ammon's father taking his place, and entered the big touring car for which Henderson had telephoned. She sank limply into a seat and moaned softly.
"Shall I drive awhile in the night air?" asked Henderson.
She nodded. He instructed the chauffeur.
She raised her head in a few seconds. "Hart, I'm going to pieces," she said. "Won't you put your arm around me a little while?"
Henderson gathered her into his arms and her head fell on his shoulder. "Closer!" she cried.
Henderson held her until his arms were numb, but he did not know it. The tricks of fate are cruel enough, but there scarcely could have been a worse one than that: To care for a woman as he loved Edith Carr and have her given into his arms because she was so numb with misery over her trouble with another man that she did not know or care what she did. Dawn was streaking the east when he spoke to her.
"Edith, it is growing light."
"Take me home," she said.
Henderson helped her up the steps and rang the bell.
"Miss Carr is ill," he said to the footman. "Arouse her maid instantly, and have her prepare something hot as quickly as possible."
"Edith," he cried, "just a word. I have been thinking. It isn't too late yet. Take your ring and put it on. I will go find Phil at once and tell him you have, that you are expecting him, and he will come."
"Think what he said!" she cried. "He accepted my decision as final, `in the presence of witnesses,' as if it were court. He can return it to me, if I ever wear it again."
"You think that now, but in a few days you will find that you feel very differently. Living a life of heartache is no joke, and no job for a woman. Put on your ring and send me to tell him to come."
"Edith, there was not a soul who saw that, but sympathized with Phil. It was ridiculous for you to get so angry over a thing which was never intended for the slightest offence, and by no logical reasoning could have been so considered."
"Do you think that?" she demanded.
"I do!" said Henderson. "If you had laughed and stepped aside an instant, or laughed and stayed where you were, Phil would have been back; or, if he needed punishment in your eyes, to have found me having one of his dances would have been enough. I was waiting. You could have called me with one look. But to publicly do and say what you did, my lady--I know Phil, and I know you went too far. Put on that ring, and send him word you are sorry, before it is too late."
"I will not! He shall come to me."
"Then God help you!" said Henderson, "for you are plunging into misery whose depth you do not dream. Edith, I beg of you----"
She swayed where she stood. Her maid opened the door and caught her. Henderson went down the hall and out to his car.