Chapter VIII. Which is the Real Love Story
 

BOSTON. Four days later.

Well, here I am again in Boston. Mother and the rest met me at the station, and everybody seemed glad to see me, just as they did before. And I was glad to see them. But I didn't feel anywhere near so excited, and sort of crazy, as I did last year. I tried to, but I couldn't. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I'd been Marie all summer, anyway, so I wasn't so crazy to be Marie now, not needing any rest from being Mary. Maybe it was 'cause I sort of hated to leave Father.

And I did hate to leave him, especially when I found he hated to have me leave him. And he did. He told me so at the junction. You see, our train was late, and we had to wait for it; and there was where he told me.

He had come all the way down there with me, just as he had before. But he hadn't acted the same at all. He didn't fidget this time, nor walk over to look at maps and time-tables, nor flip out his watch every other minute with such a bored air that everybody knew he was seeing me off just as a duty. And he didn't ask if I was warmly clad, and had I left anything, either. He just sat and talked to me, and he asked me had I been a little happier there with him this year than last; and he said he hoped I had.

And I told him, of course, I had; that it had been perfectly beautiful there, even if there had been such a mix-up of him getting ready for Marie, and Mother sending Mary. And he laughed and looked queer--sort of half glad and half sorry; and said he shouldn't worry about that. Then the train came, and we got on and rode down to the junction. And there, while we were waiting for the other train, he told me how sorry he was to have me go.

He said I would never know how he missed me after I went last year. He said you never knew how you missed things--and people--till they were gone. And I wondered if, by the way he said it, he wasn't thinking of Mother more than he was of me, and of her going long ago. And he looked so sort of sad and sorry and noble and handsome, sitting there beside me, that suddenly I 'most wanted to cry. And I told him I did love him, I loved him dearly, and I had loved to be with him this summer, and that I'd stay his whole six months with him next year if he wanted me to.

He shook his head at that; but he did look happy and pleased, and said I'd never know how glad he was that I'd said that, and that he should prize it very highly--the love of his little daughter. He said you never knew how to prize love, either, till you'd lost it; and he said he'd learned his lesson, and learned it well. I knew then, of course, that he was thinking of Mother and the long ago. And I felt so sorry for him.

"But I'll stay--I'll stay the whole six months next year!" I cried again.

But again he shook his head.

"No, no, my dear; I thank you, and I'd love to have you; but it is much better for you that you stay in Boston through the school year, and I want you to do it. It'll just make the three months I do have you all the dearer, because of the long nine months that I do not," he went on very cheerfully and briskly; "and don't look so solemn and long-faced. You're not to blame--for this wretched situation."

The train came then, and he put me on board, and he kissed me again--but I was expecting it this time, of course. Then I whizzed off, and he was left standing all alone on the platform. And I felt so sorry for him; and all the way down to Boston I kept thinking of him--what he said, and how he looked, and how fine and splendid and any-woman-would-be-proud-of-him he was as he stood on the platform waving good-bye.

And so I guess I was still thinking of him and being sorry for him when I got to Boston. That's why I couldn't be so crazy and hilariously glad when the folks met me, I suspect. Some way, all of a sudden, I found myself wishing he could be there, too.

Of course, I knew that that was bad and wicked and unkind to Mother, and she'd feel so grieved not to have me satisfied with her. And I wouldn't have told her of it for the world. So I tried just as hard as I could to forget him--on account of Mother, so as to be loyal to her. And I did 'most forget him by the time I'd got home. But it all came back again a little later when we were unpacking my trunk.

You see, Mother found the two new white dresses, and the dear little shoes. I knew then, of course, that she'd have to know all--I mean, how she hadn't pleased Father, even after all her pains trying to have me go as Mary.

"Why, Marie, what in the world is this?" she demanded, holding up one of the new dresses.

I could have cried.

I suppose she saw by my face how awfully I felt 'cause she'd found it. And, of course, she saw something was the matter; and she thought it was--

Well, the first thing I knew she was looking at me in her very sternest, sorriest way, and saying:

"Oh, Marie, how could you? I'm ashamed of you! Couldn't you wear the Mary dresses one little three months to please your father?"

I did cry, then. After all I'd been through, to have her accuse me of getting those dresses! Well, I just couldn't stand it. And I told her so as well as I could, only I was crying so by now that I could hardly speak. I told her how it was hard enough to be Mary part of the time, and Marie part of the time, when I knew what they wanted me to be. But when she tried to have me Mary while he wanted me Marie, and he tried to have me Marie while she wanted me Mary--I did not know what they wanted; and I wished I had never been born unless I could have been born a plain Susie or Bessie, or Annabelle, and not a Mary Marie that was all mixed up till I didn't know what I was.

And then I cried some more.

Mother dropped the dress then, and took me in her arms over on the couch, and she said, "There, there," and that I was tired and nervous, and all wrought up, and to cry all I wanted to. And by and by, when I was calmer I could tell Mother all about it.

And I did.

I told her how hard I tried to be Mary all the way up to Andersonville and after I got there; and how then I found out, all of a sudden one day, that father had got ready for Marie, and he didn't want me to be Mary, and that was why he had got Cousin Grace and the automobile and the geraniums in the window, and, oh, everything that made it nice and comfy and homey. And then is when they bought me the new white dresses and the little white shoes. And I told Mother, of course, it was lovely to be Marie, and I liked it, only I knew she would feel bad to think, after all her pains to make me Mary, Father didn't want me Mary at all.

"I don't think you need to worry--about that," stammered Mother. And when I looked at her, her face was all flushed, and sort of queer, but not a bit angry. And she went on in the same odd little shaky voice: "But, tell me, why--why did--your father want you to be Marie and not Mary?"

And then I told her how he said he'd remembered what I'd said to him in the parlor that day--how tired I got being Mary, and how I'd put on Marie's things just to get a little vacation from her; and he said he'd never forgotten. And so when it came near time for me to come again, he determined to fix it so I wouldn't have to be Mary at all. And so that was why. And I told Mother it was all right, and of course I liked it; only it did mix me up awfully, not knowing which wanted me to be Mary now, and which Marie, when they were both telling me different from what they ever had before. And that it was hard, when you were trying just the best you knew how.

And I began to cry again.

And she said there, there, once more, and patted me on my shoulder, and told me I needn't worry any more. And that she understood it, if I didn't. In fact, she was beginning to understand a lot of things that she'd never understood before. And she said it was very, very dear of Father to do what he did, and that I needn't worry about her being displeased at it. That she was pleased, and that she believed he meant her to be. And she said I needn't think any more whether to be Mary or Marie; but to be just a good, loving little daughter to both of them; and that was all she asked, and she was very sure it was all Father would ask, too.

I told her then how I thought he did care a little about having me there, and that I knew he was going to miss me. And I told her why--what he'd said that morning in the junction--about appreciating love, and not missing things or people until you didn't have them; and how he'd learned his lesson, and all that.

And Mother grew all flushed and rosy again, but she was pleased. I knew she was. And she said some beautiful things about making other people happy, instead of looking to ourselves all the time, just as she had talked once, before I went away. And I felt again that hushed, stained-window, soft-music, everybody-kneeling kind of a way; and I was so happy! And it lasted all the rest of that evening till I went to sleep.

And for the first time a beautiful idea came to me, when I thought how Mother was trying to please Father, and he was trying to please her. Wouldn't it be perfectly lovely and wonderful if Father and Mother should fall in love with each other all over again, and get married? I guess then this would be a love story all right, all right!

       *       *       *       *       *

October.

Oh, how I wish that stained-window, everybody-kneeling feeling would last. But it never does. Just the next morning, when I woke up, it rained. And I didn't feel pleased a bit. Still I remembered what had happened the night before, and a real glow came over me at the beautiful idea I had gone to sleep with.

I wanted to tell Mother, and ask her if it couldn't be, and wouldn't she let it be, if Father would. So, without waiting to dress me, I hurried across the hall to her room and told her all about it--my idea, and everything.

But she said, "Nonsense," and, "Hush, hush," when I asked her if she and Father couldn't fall in love all over again and get married. And she said not to get silly notions into my head. And she wasn't a bit flushed and teary, as she had been the night before, and she didn't talk at all as she had then, either. And it's been that way ever since. Things have gone along in just the usual humdrum way, and she's never been the same as she was that night I came.

Something--a little something--did happen yesterday, though. There's going to be another big astronomy meeting here in Boston this month, just as there was when Father found Mother years ago; and Grandfather brought home word that Father was going to be one of the chief speakers. And he told Mother he supposed she'd go and hear him.

I couldn't make out whether he was joking or not. (I never can tell when Grandfather's joking.) But Aunt Hattie took it right up in earnest, and said, "Pooh, pooh," she guessed not. She could see Madge going down to that hall to hear Dr. Anderson speak!

And then a funny thing happened. I looked at Mother, and I saw her head come up with a queer little jerk.

"Well, yes, I am thinking of going," she said, just as calm and cool as could be. "When does he speak, Father?"

And when Aunt Hattie pooh-poohed some more, and asked how could she do such a thing, Mother answered:

"Because Charles Anderson is the father of my little girl, and I think she should hear him speak. Therefore, Hattie, I intend to take her."

And then she asked Grandfather again when Father was going to speak.

I'm so excited! Only think of seeing my father up on a big platform with a lot of big men, and hearing him speak! And he'll be the very smartest and handsomest one there, too. You see if he isn't!

       *       *       *       *       *

Two weeks and one day later.

Oh, I've got a lot to write this time--I mean, a lot has happened. Still, I don't know as it's going to take so very long to tell it. Besides, I'm almost too excited to write, anyway. But I'm going to do the best I can to tell it, just as it happened.

Father's here--right here in Boston. I don't know when he came. But the first day of the meeting was day before yesterday, and he was here then. The paper said he was, and his picture was there, too. There were a lot of pictures, but his was away ahead of the others. It was the very best one on the page. (I told you it would be that way.)

Mother saw it first. That is, I think she did. She had the paper in her hand, looking at it, when I came into the room; but as soon as she saw me she laid it right down quick on the table. If she hadn't been quite so quick about it, and if she hadn't looked quite so queer when she did it, I wouldn't have thought anything at all. But when I went over to the table after she had gone, and saw the paper with Father's picture right on the first page--and the biggest picture there--I knew then, of course, what she'd been looking at.

I looked at it then, and I read what it said, too. It was lovely. Why, I hadn't any idea Father was so big. I was prouder than ever of him. It told all about the stars and comets he'd discovered, and the books he'd written on astronomy, and how he was president of the college at Andersonville, and that he was going to give an address the next day. And I read it all--every word. And I made up my mind right there and then that I'd cut out that piece and save it.

But that night, when I went to the library cupboard to get the paper, I couldn't do it, after all. Oh, the paper was there, but that page was gone. There wasn't a bit of it left. Somebody had taken it right out. I never thought then of Mother. But I believe now that it was Mother, for--

But I mustn't tell you that part now. Stories are just like meals. You have to eat them--I mean tell them--in regular order, and not put the ice-cream in where the soup ought to be. So I'm not going to tell yet why I suspect it was Mother that cut out that page of the paper with Father's picture in it.

Well, the next morning was Father's lecture, and I went with Mother. Of course Grandfather was there, too, but he was with the other astronomers, I guess. Anyhow, he didn't sit with us. And Aunt Hattie didn't go at all. So Mother and I were alone.

We sat back--a long ways back. I wanted to go up front, real far front--the front seat, if I could get it; and I told Mother so. But she said, "Mercy, no!" and shuddered, and went back two more rows from where she was, and got behind a big post.

I guess she was afraid Father would see us, but that's what I wanted. I wanted him to see us. I wanted him to be right in the middle of his lecture and look down and see right there before him his little girl Mary, and she that had been the wife of his bosom. Now that would have been what I called thrilling, real thrilling, especially if he jumped or grew red, or white, or stammered, or stopped short, or anything to show that he'd seen us--and cared.

I'd have loved that.

But we sat back where Mother wanted to, behind the post. And, of course, Father never saw us at all.

It was a lovely lecture. Oh, of course, I don't mean to say that I understood it. I didn't. But his voice was fine, and he looked just too grand for anything, with the light on his noble brow, and he used the loveliest big words that I ever heard. And folks clapped, and looked at each other, and nodded, and once or twice they laughed. And when he was all through they clapped again, harder than ever. And I was so proud of him I wanted to stand right up and holler, "He's my father! He's my father!" just as loud as I could. But, of course, I didn't. I just clapped like the rest; only I wished my hands were big like the man's next to me, so I could have made more noise.

Another man spoke then, a little (not near so good as Father), and then it was all over, and everybody got up to go; and I saw that a lot of folks were crowding down the aisle, and I looked and there was Father right in front of the platform shaking hands with folks.

I looked at Mother then. Her face was all pinky-white, and her eyes were shining. I guess she thought I spoke, for all of a sudden she shook her head and said:

"No, no, I couldn't, I couldn't! But you may, dear. Run along and speak to him; but don't stay. Remember, Mother is waiting, and come right back."

I knew then that it must have been just my eyes that spoke, for I did want to go down there and speak to Father. Oh, I did want to go! And I went then, of course.

He didn't see me at first. There was a long line of us, and a big fat man was doing a lot of talking to him so we couldn't move at all, for a time. Then it came to when I was just three people away from him. And I was looking straight at him.

He saw me then. And, oh, how I did love the look that came to his face; it was so surprised and glad, and said, "Oh! You!" in such a perfectly lovely way that I choked all up and wanted to cry. (The idea!--cry when I was so glad to see him!)

I guess the two folks ahead of me didn't think they got much attention, and the next minute he had drawn me out of the line, and we were both talking at once, and telling each other how glad we were to see each other.

But he was looking for Mother--I know he was; for the next minute after he saw me, he looked right over my head at the woman back of me. And all the while he was talking with me, his eyes would look at me and then leap as swift as lightning first here, and then there, all over the hall. But he didn't see her. I knew he didn't see her, by the look on his face. And pretty quick I said I'd have to go. And then he said:

"Your mother--perhaps she didn't--did she come?" And his face grew all red and rosy as he asked the question.

And I said yes, and she was waiting, and that was why I had to go back right away.

And he said, "Yes, yes, to be sure," and, "good-bye." But he still held my hand tight, and his eyes were still roving all over the house. And I had to tell him again that I really had to go; and I had to pull real determined at my hand, before I could break away. And I don't believe I could have gone even then if some other folks hadn't come up at that minute.

I went back to Mother then. The hall was almost empty, and she wasn't anywhere in sight at all; but I found her just outside the door. I knew then why Father's face showed that he hadn't found her. She wasn't there to find. I suspect she had looked out for that.

Her face was still pinky-white, and her eyes were shining; and she wanted to know everything we had said--everything. So she found out, of course, that he had asked if she was there. But she didn't say anything herself, not anything. She didn't say anything, either, at the luncheon table, when Grandfather was talking with Aunt Hattie about the lecture, and telling some of the things Father had said.

Grandfather said it was an admirable address, scholarly and convincing, or something like that. And he said that he thought Dr. Anderson had improved greatly in looks and manner. And he looked straight at Mother when he said that; but still Mother never said a word.

In the afternoon I went to walk with one of the girls; and when I came in I couldn't find Mother. She wasn't anywhere downstairs, nor in her room, nor mine, nor anywhere else on that floor. Aunt Hattie said no, she wasn't out, but that she was sure she didn't know where she was. She must be somewhere in the house.

I went upstairs then, another flight. There wasn't anywhere else to go, and Mother must be somewhere, of course. And it seemed suddenly to me as if I'd just got to find her. I wanted her so.

And I found her.

In the little back room where Aunt Hattie keeps her trunks and moth-ball bags, Mother was on the floor in the corner crying. And when I exclaimed out and ran over to her, I found she was sitting beside an old trunk that was open; and across her lap was a perfectly lovely pale-blue satin dress all trimmed with silver lace that had grown black. And Mother was crying and crying as if her heart would break.

Of course, I tried and tried to stop her, and I begged her to tell me what was the matter. But I couldn't do a thing, not a thing, not for a long time. Then I happened to say what a lovely dress, only what a pity it was that the lace was all black.

She gave a little choking cry then, and began to talk--little short sentences all choked up with sobs, so that I could hardly tell what she was talking about. Then, little by little, I began to understand.

She said yes, it was all black--tarnished; and that it was just like everything that she had had anything to do with--tarnished: her life and her marriage, and Father's life, and mine--everything was tarnished, just like that silver lace on that dress. And she had done it by her thoughtless selfishness and lack of self-discipline.

And when I tried and tried to tell her no, it wasn't, and that I didn't feel tarnished a bit, and that she wasn't, nor Father either, she only cried all the more, and shook her head and began again, all choked up.

She said this little dress was the one she wore at the big reception where she first met Father. It was a beautiful blue then, all shining and spotless, and the silver lace glistened like frost in the sunlight. And she was so proud and happy when Father--and he was fine and splendid and handsome then, too, she said--singled her out, and just couldn't seem to stay away from her a minute all the evening. And then four days later he asked her to marry him; and she was still more proud and happy.

And she said their married life, when they started out, was just like that beautiful dress, all shining and spotless and perfect; but that it wasn't two months before a little bit of tarnish appeared, and then another and another.

She said she was selfish and willful and exacting, and wanted Father all to herself; and she didn't stop to think that he had his work to do, and his place to make in the world; and that all of living, to him, wasn't just in being married to her, and attending to her every whim. She said she could see it all now, but that she couldn't then, she was too young, and undisciplined, and she'd never been denied a thing in the world she wanted. As she said that, right before my eyes rose that box of chocolates she made me eat one at a time; but, of course, I didn't say anything! Besides, Mother hurried right on talking.

She said things went on worse and worse--and it was all her fault. She grew sour and cross and disagreeable. She could see now that she did. But she did not realize at all then what she was doing. She was just thinking of herself--always herself; her rights, her wrongs, her hurt feelings, her wants and wishes. She never once thought that he had rights and wrongs and hurt feelings, maybe.

And so the tarnish kept growing more and more. She said there was nothing like selfishness to tarnish the beautiful fabric of married life. (Isn't that a lovely sentence? I said that over and over to myself so as to be sure and remember it, so I could get it into this story. I thought it was beautiful.)

She said a lot more--oh, ever so much more; but I can't remember it all. (I lost some while I was saying that sentence over and over, so as to remember it.) I know that she went on to say that by and by the tarnish began to dim the brightness of my life, too; and that was the worst of all, she said--that innocent children should suffer, and their young lives be spotted by the kind of living I'd had to have, with this wretched makeshift of a divided home. She began to cry again then, and begged me to forgive her, and I cried and tried to tell her I didn't mind it; but, of course, I'm older now, and I know I do mind it, though I'm trying just as hard as I can not to be Mary when I ought to be Marie, or Marie when I ought to be Mary. Only I get all mixed up so, lately, and I said so, and I guess I cried some more.

Mother jumped up then, and said, "Tut, tut," what was she thinking of to talk like this when it couldn't do a bit of good, but only made matters worse. And she said that only went to prove how she was still keeping on tarnishing my happiness and bringing tears to my bright eyes, when certainly nothing of the whole wretched business was my fault.

She thrust the dress back into the trunk then, and shut the lid. Then she took me downstairs and bathed my eyes and face with cold water, and hers, too. And she began to talk and laugh and tell stories, and be gayer and jollier than I'd seen her for ever so long. And she was that way at dinner, too, until Grandfather happened to mention the reception to-morrow night, and ask if she was going.

She flushed up red then, oh, so red! and said, "Certainly not." Then she added quick, with a funny little drawing-in of her breath, that she should let Marie go, though, with her Aunt Hattie.

There was an awful fuss then. Aunt Hattie raised her eyebrows and threw up her hands, and said:

"That child--in the evening! Why, Madge, are you crazy?"

And Mother said no, she wasn't crazy at all; but it was the only chance Father would have to see me, and she didn't feel that she had any right to deprive him of that privilege, and she didn't think it would do me any harm to be out this once late in the evening. And she intended to let me go.

Aunt Hattie still didn't approve, and she said more, quite a lot more; but Grandfather spoke up and took my part, and said that, in his opinion, Madge was right, quite right, and that it was no more than fair that the man should have a chance to talk with his own child for a little while, and that he would be very glad to take me himself and look after me, if Aunt Hattie did not care to take the trouble.

Aunt Hattie bridled up at that, and said that that wasn't the case at all; that she'd be very glad to look after me; and if Mother had quite made up her mind that she wanted me to go, they'd call the matter settled.

And Mother said she had, and so it was settled. And I'm going. I'm to wear my new white dress with the pink rosebud trimming, and I'm so excited I can hardly wait till to-morrow night. But--oh, if only Mother would go, too!

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later.

Well, now I guess something's doing all right! And my hand is shaking so I can hardly write--it wants to get ahead so fast and tell. But I'm going to keep it sternly back and tell it just as it happened, and not begin at the ice-cream instead of the soup.

Very well, then. I went last night with Grandfather and Aunt Hattie to the reception; and Mother said I looked very sweet, and any-father-ought-to-be-proud-of me in my new dress. Grandfather patted me, put on his glasses, and said, "Well, well, bless my soul! Is this our little Mary Marie?" And even Aunt Hattie said if I acted as well as I looked I'd do very well. Then Mother kissed me and ran upstairs quick. But I saw the tears in her eyes, and I knew why she hurried so.

At the reception I saw Father right away, but he didn't see me for a long time. He stood in a corner, and lots of folks came up and spoke to him and shook hands; and he bowed and smiled--but in between, when there wasn't anybody noticing, he looked so tired and bored. After a time he stirred and changed his position, and I think he was hunting for a chance to get away, when all of a sudden his eyes, roving around the room, lighted on me.

My! but just didn't I love the way he came through that crowd, straight toward me, without paying one bit of attention to the folks that tried to stop him on the way. And when he got to me, he looked so glad to see me, only there was the same quick searching with his eyes, beyond and around me, as if he was looking for somebody else, just as he had done the morning of the lecture. And I knew it was Mother, of course. So I said:

"No, she didn't come."

"So I see," he answered. And there was such a hurt, sorry look away back in his eyes. But right away he smiled, and said: "But you came! I've got you."

Then he began to talk and tell stories, just as if I was a young lady to be entertained. And he took me over to where they had things to eat, and just heaped my plate with chicken patties and sandwiches and olives and pink-and-white frosted cakes and ice-cream (not all at once, of course, but in order). And I had a perfectly beautiful time. And Father seemed to like it pretty well. But after a while he grew sober again, and his eyes began to rove all around the room.

He took me to a little seat in the corner then, and we sat down and began to talk--only Father didn't talk much. He just listened to what I said, and his eyes grew deeper and darker and sadder, and they didn't rove around so much, after a time, but just stared fixedly at nothing, away out across the room. By and by he stirred and drew a long sigh, and said, almost under his breath:

"It was just such another night as this."

And of course, I asked what was--and then I knew, almost before he had told me.

"That I first saw your mother, my dear."

"Oh, yes, I know!" I cried, eager to tell him that I did know. "And she must have looked lovely in that perfectly beautiful blue silk dress all silver lace."

He turned and stared at me.

"How did you know that?" he demanded.

"I saw it."

"You saw it!"

"Yesterday, yes--the dress," I nodded.

"But how could you?" he asked, frowning, and looking so surprised. "Why, that dress must be--seventeen years old, or more."

I nodded again, and I suppose I did look pleased: it's such fun to have a secret, you know, and watch folks guess and wonder. And I kept him guessing and wondering for quite a while. Then, of course, I told him that it was upstairs in Grandfather's trunk-room; that Mother had got it out, and I saw it.

"But, what--was your mother doing with that dress?" he asked then, looking even more puzzled and mystified.

And then suddenly I thought and remembered that Mother was crying. And, of course, she wouldn't want Father to know she was crying over it--that dress she had worn when he first met her long ago! (I don't think women ever want men to know such things, do you? I know I shouldn't!) So I didn't tell. I just kind of tossed it off, and mumbled something about her looking it over; and I was going to say something else, but I saw that Father wasn't listening. He had begun to talk again, softly, as if to himself.

"I suppose to-night, seeing you, and all this, brought it back to me so vividly." Then he turned and looked at me. "You are very like your mother to-night, dear."

"I suppose I am, maybe, when I'm Marie," I nodded.

He laughed with his lips, but his eyes didn't laugh one bit as he said:

"What a quaint little fancy of yours that is, child--as if you were two in one."

"But I am two in one," I declared. "That's why I'm a cross-current and a contradiction, you know," I explained.

I thought he'd understand. But he didn't. I supposed, of course, he knew what a cross-current and a contradiction was. But he turned again and stared at me.

"A--what?" he demanded.

"A cross-current and a contradiction," I explained once more. "Children of unlikes, you know. Nurse Sarah told me that long ago. Didn't you ever hear that--that a child of unlikes was a cross-current and a contradiction?"

"Well, no--I--hadn't," answered Father, in a queer, half-smothered voice. He half started from his seat. I think he was going to walk up and down, same as he usually does. But in a minute he saw he couldn't, of course, with all those people around there. So he sat back again in his chair. For a minute he just frowned and stared at nothing; then he spoke again, as if half to himself.

"I suppose, Mary, we were--unlikes, your mother and I. That's just what we were; though I never thought of it before, in just that way."

He waited, then went on, still half to himself, his eyes on the dancers:

"She loved things like this--music, laughter, gayety. I abhorred them. I remember how bored I was that night here--till I saw her."

"And did you fall in love with her right away?" I just couldn't help asking that question. Oh, I do so adore love stories!

A queer little smile came to Father's lips.

"Well, yes, I think I did, Mary. There'd been dozens and dozens of young ladies that had flitted by in their airy frocks--and I never looked twice at them. I never looked twice at your mother, for that matter, Mary." (A funny little twinkle came into Father's eyes. I love him with that twinkle!) "I just looked at her once--and then kept on looking till it seemed as if I just couldn't take my eyes off her. And after a little her glance met mine--and the whole throng melted away, and there wasn't another soul in the room but just us two. Then she looked away, and the throng came back. But I still looked at her."

"Was she so awfully pretty, Father?" I could feel the little thrills tingling all over me. Now I was getting a love story!

"She was, my dear. She was very lovely. But it wasn't just that--it was a joyous something that I could not describe. It was as if she were a bird, poised for flight. I know it now for what it was--the very incarnation of the spirit of youth. And she was young. Why, Mary, she was not so many years older than you yourself, now."

I nodded, and I guess I sighed.

"I know--where the brook and river meet," I said; "only they won't let me have any lovers at all."

"Eh? What?" Father had turned and was looking at me so funny. "Well, no, I should say not," he said then. "You aren't sixteen yet. And your mother--I suspect she was too young. If she hadn't been quite so young--"

He stopped, and stared again straight ahead at the dancers--without seeing one of them, I knew. Then he drew a great deep sigh that seemed to come from the very bottom of his boots.

"But it was my fault, my fault, every bit of it," he muttered, still staring straight ahead. "If I hadn't been so thoughtless--As if I could imprison that bright spirit of youth in a great dull cage of conventionality, and not expect it to bruise its wings by fluttering against the bars!"

I thought that was perfectly beautiful--that sentence. I said it right over to myself two or three times so I wouldn't forget how to write it down here. So I didn't quite hear the next things that Father said. But when I did notice, I found he was still talking--and it was about Mother, and him, and their marriage, and their first days at the old house. I knew it was that, even if he did mix it all up about the spirit of youth beating its wings against the bars. And over and over again he kept repeating that it was his fault, it was his fault; and if he could only live it over again he'd do differently.

And right there and then it came to me that Mother said it was her fault, too; and that if only she could live it over again, she'd do differently. And here was Father saying the same thing. And all of a sudden I thought, well, why can't they try it over again, if they both want to, and if each says it, was their--no, his, no, hers--well, his and her fault. (How does the thing go? I hate grammar!) But I mean, if she says it's her fault, and he says it's his. That's what I thought, anyway. And I determined right then and there to give them the chance to try again, if speaking would do it.

I looked up at Father. He was still talking half under his breath, his eyes looking straight ahead. He had forgotten all about me. That was plain to be seen. If I'd been a cup of coffee without any coffee in it, he'd have been stirring me. I know he would. He was like that.

"Father. Father!" I had to speak twice, before he heard me. "Do you really mean that you would like to try again?" I asked.

"Eh? What?" And just the way he turned and looked at me showed how many miles he'd been away from me.

"Try it again, you know--what you said," I reminded him.

"Oh, that!" Such a funny look came to his face, half ashamed, half vexed. "I'm afraid I have been--talking, my dear."

"Yes, but would you?" I persisted.

He shook his head; then, with such an oh-that-it-could-be! smile, he said:

"Of course;--we all wish that we could go back and do it over again--differently. But we never can."

"I know; like the cloth that's been cut up into the dress," I nodded.

"Cloth? Dress?" frowned Father.

"Yes, that Mother told me about," I explained. Then I told him the story that Mother had told me--how you couldn't go back and be unmarried, just as you were before, any more than you could put the cloth back on the shelf, all neatly folded in a great long web after it had been cut up into a dress.

"Did your mother say--that?" asked Father. His voice was husky, and his eyes were turned away, but they were not looking at the dancers. He was listening to me now. I knew that, and so I spoke quick, before he could get absent-minded again.

"Yes, but, Father, you can go back, in this case, and so can Mother, 'cause you both want to," I hurried on, almost choking in my anxiety to get it all out quickly. "And Mother said it was her fault. I heard her."

"Her fault!" I could see that Father did not quite understand, even yet.

"Yes, yes, just as you said it was yours--about all those things at the first, you know, when--when she was a spirit of youth beating against the bars."

Father turned square around and faced me.

"Mary, what are you talking about?" he asked then. And I'd have been scared of his voice if it hadn't been for the great light that was shining in his eyes.

But I looked into his eyes, and wasn't scared; and I told him everything, every single thing--all about how Mother had cried over the little blue dress that day in the trunk-room, and how she had shown the tarnished lace and said that she had tarnished the happiness of him and of herself and of me; and that it was all her fault; that she was thoughtless and willful and exacting and a spoiled child; and, oh, if she could only try it over again, how differently she would do! And there was a lot more. I told everything--everything I could remember. Some way, I didn't believe that Mother would mind now, after what Father had said. And I just knew she wouldn't mind if she could see the look in Father's eyes as I talked.

He didn't interrupt me--not long interruptions. He did speak out a quick little word now and then, at some of the parts; and once I know I saw him wipe a tear from his eyes. After that he put up his hand and sat with his eyes covered all the rest of the time I was talking. And he didn't take it down till I said:

"And so, Father, that's why I told you; 'cause it seemed to me if you wanted to try again, and she wanted to try again, why can't you do it? Oh, Father, think how perfectly lovely 'twould be if you did, and if it worked! Why, I wouldn't care whether I was Mary or Marie, or what I was. I'd have you and Mother both together, and, oh, how I should love it!"

It was just here that Father's arm came out and slipped around me in a great big hug.

"Bless your heart! But, Mary, my dear, how are we going to--to bring this about?" And he actually stammered and blushed, and he looked almost young with his eyes so shining and his lips so smiling. And then is when my second great idea came to me.

"Oh, Father!" I cried, "couldn't you come courting her again--calls and flowers and candy, and all the rest? Oh, Father, couldn't you? Why, Father, of course, you could!"

This last I added in my most persuasive voice, for I could see the "no" on his face even before he began to shake his head.

"I'm afraid not, my dear," he said then. "It would take more than a flower or a bonbon to to win your mother back now, I fear."

"But you could try," I urged.

He shook his head again.

"She wouldn't see me--if I called, my dear," he answered.

He sighed as he said it, and I sighed, too. And for a minute I didn't say anything. Of course, if she wouldn't see him--

Then another idea came to me.

"But, Father, if she would see you--I mean, if you got a chance, you would tell her what you told me just now; about--about its being your fault, I mean, and the spirit of youth beating against the bars, and all that. You would, wouldn't you?"

He didn't say anything, not anything, for such a long time I thought he hadn't heard me. Then, with a queer, quick drawing-in of his breath, he said:

"I think--little girl--if--if I ever got the chance I would say--a great deal more than I said to you to-night."

"Good!" I just crowed the word, and I think I clapped my hands; but right away I straightened up and was very fine and dignified, for I saw Aunt Hattie looking at me from across the room, as I said:

"Very good, then. You shall have the chance."

He turned and smiled a little, but he shook his head.

"Thank you, child; but I don't think you know quite what you're promising," he said.

"Yes, I do."

Then I told him my idea. At first he said no, and it couldn't be, and he was very sure she wouldn't see him, even if he called. But I said she would if he would do exactly as I said. And I told him my plan. And after a time and quite a lot of talk, he said he would agree to it.

And this morning we did it.

At exactly ten o'clock he came up the steps of the house here, but he didn't ring the bell. I had told him not to do that, and I was on the watch for him. I knew that at ten o'clock Grandfather would be gone, Aunt Hattie probably downtown shopping, and Lester out with his governess. I wasn't so sure of Mother, but I knew it was Saturday, and I believed I could manage somehow to keep her here with me, so that everything would be all right there.

And I did. I had a hard time, though. Seems as if she proposed everything to do this morning--shopping, and a walk, and a call on a girl I knew who was sick. But I said I did not feel like doing anything but just to stay at home and rest quietly with her. (Which was the truth--I didn't feel like doing anything else!) But that almost made matters worse than ever, for she said that was so totally unlike me that she was afraid I must be sick; and I had all I could do to keep her from calling a doctor.

[Illustration: THEN I TOLD HIM MY IDEA]

But I did it; and at five minutes before ten she was sitting quietly sewing in her own room. Then I went downstairs to watch for Father.

He came just on the dot, and I let him in and took him into the library. Then I went upstairs and told Mother there was some one downstairs who wanted to see her.

And she said, how funny, and wasn't there any name, and where was the maid. But I didn't seem to hear. I had gone into my room in quite a hurry, as if I had forgotten something I wanted to do there. But, of course, I didn't do a thing--except to make sure that she went downstairs to the library.

They're there now together. And he's been here a whole hour already. Seems as if he ought to say something in that length of time!

After I was sure Mother was down, I took out this, and began to write in it. And I've been writing ever since. But, oh, I do so wonder what's going on down there. I'm so excited over--

       *       *       *       *       *

One week later.

At just that minute Mother came into the room. I wish you could have seen her. My stars, but she looked pretty!--with her shining eyes and the lovely pink in her cheeks. And young! Honestly, I believe she looked younger than I did that minute.

She just came and put her arms around me and kissed me; and I saw then that her eyes were all misty with tears. She didn't say a word, hardly, only that Father wanted to see me, and I was to go right down.

And I went.

I thought, of course, that she was coming too. But she didn't. And when I got down the stairs I found I was all alone; but I went right on into the library, and there was Father waiting for me.

He didn't say much, either, at first; but just like Mother he put his arms around me and kissed me, and held me there. Then, very soon, he began to talk; and, oh, he said such beautiful things--such tender, lovely, sacred things; too sacred even to write down here. Then he kissed me again and went away.

But he came back the next day, and he's been here some part of every day since. And, oh, what a wonderful week it has been!

They're going to be married. It's to-morrow. They'd have been married right away at the first, only they had to wait--something about licenses and a five-day notice, Mother said. Father fussed and fumed, and wanted to try for a special dispensation, or something; but Mother laughed, and said certainly not, and that she guessed it was just as well, for she positively had to have a few things; and he needn't think he could walk right in like that on a body and expect her to get married at a moment's notice. But she didn't mean it. I know she didn't; for when Father reproached her, she laughed softly, and called him an old goose, and said, yes, of course, she'd have married him in two minutes if it hadn't been for the five-day notice, no matter whether she ever had a new dress or not.

And that's the way it is with them all the time. They're too funny and lovely together for anything. (Aunt Hattie says they're too silly for anything; but nobody minds Aunt Hattie.) They just can't seem to do enough for each other. Father was going next week to a place 'way on the other side of the world to view an eclipse of the moon, but he said right off he'd give it up. But Mother said, "No, indeed," she guessed he wouldn't give it up; that he was going, and that she was going, too--a wedding trip; and that she was sure she didn't know a better place to go for a wedding trip than the moon! And Father was so pleased. And he said he'd try not to pay all his attention to the stars this time; and Mother laughed and said, "Nonsense," and that she adored stars herself, and that he must pay attention to the stars. It was his business to. Then she looked very wise and got off something she'd read in the astronomy book. And they both laughed, and looked over to me to see if I was noticing. And I was. And so then we all laughed.

And, as I said before, it is all perfectly lovely and wonderful.

So it's all settled, and they're going right away on this trip and call it a wedding trip. And, of course, Grandfather had to get off his joke about how he thought it was a pretty dangerous business; and to see that this honeymoon didn't go into an eclipse while they were watching the other one. But nobody minds Grandfather.

I'm to stay here and finish school. Then, in the spring, when Father and Mother come back, we are all to go to Andersonville and begin to live in the old house again.

Won't it be lovely? It just seems too good to be true. Why, I don't care a bit now whether I'm Mary or Marie. But, then, nobody else does, either. In fact, both of them call me the whole name now, Mary Marie. I don't think they ever said they would. They just began to do it. That's all.

Of course, anybody can see why: now each one is calling me the other one's name along with their own. That is, Mother is calling me Mary along with her pet Marie, and Father is calling me Marie along with his pet Mary.

Funny, isn't it?

But one thing is sure, anyway. How about this being a love story now? Oh, I'm so excited!