Chapter XXI. Portraits
 

Revelations were in order in these days. Another of a quite different sort came to Roberta within the week. On a morning when she knew Richard Kendrick to be in Eastman she consented to drive with Mrs. Stephen to make a call upon Mr. Matthew Kendrick, now at home and recovering satisfactorily from his fall, but still confined to his room. With a basketful of splendid garden roses upon her arm she followed Rosamond into the great stone pile.

They seemed to have left the sunlight and the summer day itself outside as they sat waiting in the stiff and formal reception-room, which looked as if no woman's hand or foot had touched it for a decade. As they were conducted to Mr. Kendrick's room upon the floor above they noted with observant eyes the cheerless character of every foot of the way--lofty hall, sombre staircase, gloomy corridor. Even Mr. Kendrick's own room, filled though it was with costly furniture, its walls hung with portraits and heavy oil paintings, after the fashion of the rich man who wants his home comfortable and attractive but does not know how to make it so, was by no means homelike.

"This is good of you--this is good of you," the old man said happily, as they approached his couch. He held out his hands to them, and when Roberta presented her roses, exclaimed over them like a pleased child, and sent his man hurrying about to find receptacles for them. He lay looking from the flowers to the faces while he talked, as if he did not know which were the more refreshing to his eyes, weary of the surroundings to which they had been so long accustomed.

"These will be the first thing Dick will spy when he comes to-morrow," he prophesied. "I never saw a fellow so fond of roses. The last time he was down he found time to tell me about somebody's old garden up there in Eastman, where they have some kind of wonderful, old-fashioned rose with the sweetest fragrance he ever knew. He had one in his coat; the sight of it took me back to my boyhood. But he wasn't all roses and gardens, not a bit of it! I never thought to see him so absorbed in such a subject as the management of a business. But he's full of it--he's full of it! You can't imagine how it delights me."

He was full of it himself. Though he more than once apologized for talking of his grandson and his pleasure in the way "the boy" was throwing himself into the real merits of the problems presented to the new firm in Eastman, he kept returning to this fascinating subject. It was not of interest to himself alone, and though Roberta only listened, Mrs. Stephen led him on, asking questions which he answered with eager readiness. But all at once he pulled himself up short.

"Dick would be the first person to hush my garrulous old tongue," said he. "But I feel like father and mother and grandfather all combined, in the matter of his success. I wouldn't have you think his making good--as they say in these days--in the world I am used to is my only idea of success. No, no, he has a world of his own besides. I should like you to see--there are several things I should like you to see. Last winter Dick begged from me a portrait of his mother which I had done when he was a year old; she lived only six months after that. He has it now over his desk. His father's portrait is on the opposite wall. Should you care to step across the hall into my grandson's rooms? The portraits I speak of are in the second room of the suite. Stop and examine anything else that interests you; I am sure he would be proud; and he has brought back many interesting things, principally pictures, from his travels. I should like to go with you, but if you will be so kind--"

There was no refusing the enthusiastic old man. He sent his housekeeper to see that the rooms were open of window and ready for inspection, then waved his guests away. Mrs. Stephen went with alacrity; Roberta followed more slowly, as if she somehow feared to go. Of all the odd happenings!--that she should be walking into Richard Kendrick's own habitation, with all the intimate revelations it was bound to make to her. She wondered what he would say if he knew.

The first room was precisely what she might have expected, quite obviously the apartment of a modern young man whose wishes lacked no opportunity to satisfy themselves. The room was not in bad taste; on the contrary, its somewhat heavy furnishings had an air of dignity in harmony with an earlier day than that more ostentatious period in which the rest of the house had been fitted. Upon its walls was a choice collection of pictures of various styles and schools of art, some of them unquestionably of much value. At one end of the room stood a closed grand piano. But, like the grandfather's room, the place could not by any stretch of the imagination be called homelike, and to this fact Rosamond called her companion's attention.

"It's really very interesting," said she, "and quite impressive, but I don't wonder in the least at his saying that he had no home. This might be a room in a fine hotel; there's nothing to make you feel as if anybody really lives here, in spite of the beautiful paintings. But Mr. Kendrick said the portraits were in the second room."

On her way into the second room, however, Rosamond's attention was attracted by a picture beside the door opening thereto, and with an exclamation, "Oh, this looks like Gordon! Where did he get it?" she paused. Roberta glanced that way, but a quite different object in the inner room had caught her eye, and leaving Rosamond to her wonder over a rather remarkable resemblance to her own little son in the rarely exquisite colour-drawing of a child of similar age, she went on, to stand still in the doorway, surprised out of all restraint as to the use of her interested eyes.

For this, contrary to all possible expectations, was either the room of a man of literary tastes, and of one who also preferred simplicity and utility to display of any sort, or it was an extremely clever imitation of such a room. And there were certain rather trustworthy evidences of the former.

The room, although smaller than the outer one, was a place of good size, with several large windows. Its walls to a height of several feet were lined with bookshelves filled to overflowing, the whole representing no less than three or four thousand books; Roberta could hardly guess at their number. Several comfortable easy-chairs and a massive desk were almost the only other furnishings, unless one included a few framed foreign photographs and the two portraits which hung on opposite walls. These presently called for study.

Rosamond came in and stood beside her sister, regarding the portraits with curiosity. "The father has a remarkably fine face, hasn't he?" she observed, turning from one to the other. "Unusually fine; and I think his son resembles him. But he is more like his mother. Isn't she beautiful? And he never knew her; she died when he was such a little fellow. Isn't it touching to see how he has her there above his desk as if he wanted to know her? How many books! I didn't know he cared for books, did you? Perhaps they were his father's; though his father was a business man. Yet I don't know why we never credit business men with any interest in books. Perhaps they study them more than we imagine; they must study something. Rob, did you see the picture in the other room that looks so like Gordon? It seems almost as if it must have been painted from him."

She flitted back into the outer room. Roberta stood still before the desk, above which hung the portrait of the lovely young woman who had been Richard's mother. Younger than Roberta herself she looked; such a girl to pass away and leave her baby, her first-born! And he had her here in the place of honour above his desk, where he sat to write and read. For he did read, she grew sure of it as she looked about her. Though the room was obviously looked after by a servant, it was probable that there were orders not to touch the contents of the desk-top itself, for this was as if it had been lately used. Books, a foreign review or two, a pile of letters, various desk furnishings in a curious design of wrought copper, and--what was this?--a little photograph in a frame! Horses, three of them, saddled and tied to a fence; at one side, in an attitude of arrested attention, a girl's figure in riding dress.

A wave of colour surged over Roberta's face as she picked up the picture to examine it. She had never thought again of the shot he had snapped; he had never brought it to her. Instead he had put it into this frame--she noted the frame, of carved ivory and choice beyond question--and had placed it upon his desk. There were no other photograph's of people in the room, not one. If she had found herself one among many she might have had more--or less--reason for displeasure; it was hard to say which. But to be the only one! Yet doubtless--in his bedroom, the most intimate place of all, which she was not to see, would be found his real treasures--photographs of beauties he had known, married women, girls, actresses--She caught herself up!

Rosamond, eager over the colour-drawing, had taken it from its place on the wall and gone with it across the hall to discuss its extraordinary likeness with the old man, who had sent for little Gordon several times during his stay at the Gray home and would be sure to appreciate the resemblance. Roberta, again engaged with the portrait above the desk, had not noticed her sister's departure. There was something peculiarly fascinating about this pictured face of Richard Kendrick's mother. Whether it was the illusive likeness to the son, showing first in the eyes, then in the mouth, which was one of extraordinary sweetness, it was hard to tell. But the attempt to analyze it was absorbing.

The sound of a quick step in the outer room, as it struck a bit of bare floor between the costly rugs which lay thickly upon it, arrested her attention. That was not Rosy's step! Roberta turned, a sudden fear upon her, and saw the owner of the room standing, as if surprised out of power to proceed, in the doorway.

Now, it was manifestly impossible for Roberta to know just how she looked, standing there, as he had seen her for the instant before she turned. From her head to her feet she was dressed in white, therefore against the dull background of books and heavy, plain panelling above, her figure stood out with the effect of a cameo. Her dusky hair under her white hat-brim was the only shadowing in a picture which was to his gaze all light and radiance. He stood staring at it, his own face glowing. Then:

"Oh--Roberta!" he exclaimed, under his breath. Then he came forward, both hands outstretched. She let him have one of hers for an instant, but drew it away again--with some difficulty.

"You must be surprised to find me here." Roberta strove for her usual cool control. "Rosy and I came to see your grandfather. He sent us in here to look at these portraits. Rosy has gone back to him with a picture she thought looked like Gordon. I--was staying a minute to see this; it is very beautiful."

He laughed happily. "You have explained it all away. I wish you had let me go on thinking I was dreaming. To find you--here!" He smothered an exultant breath and went on hastily:--"I'm glad you find my mother beautiful. I never knew how beautiful she was till I brought her up here and put her where I could look at her. Such a little, girlish mother for such a strapping son! But she has the look--somehow she has the look! Don't you think she has? I was a year old when that was painted--just in time, for she died six months afterward. But she had had time to get the look, hadn't she?"

"Indeed she had. I can imagine her holding her little son. Is there no picture of her with you?"

"None at all that I can find. I don't know why. There's one of me on my father's knee, four years old--just before he went, too. I am lucky to have it. I can just remember him, but not my mother at all. Do you mind my telling you that it was after I saw your mother I brought this portrait of mine up from the drawing-room and put it here? It seemed to me I must have one somehow, if only the picture of one." His voice lowered. "I can't tell you what it has done for me, the having her here."

"I can guess," said Roberta softly, studying the young, gently smiling, picture face. Somehow her former manner with this young man had temporarily deserted her. The appeal of the portrait seemed to have extended to its owner. "You--don't want to disappoint her," she added thoughtfully.

"That's it--that's just it," he agreed eagerly. "How did you know?"

"Because that's the way I feel about mine. They care so much, you know." She moved slowly toward the door. "I must go back to your grandfather."

"Why? He has Mrs. Stephen, you say. And I--like to see you here. There are a lot of things I want to show you." His eager gaze dropped to the desk-top and fell upon the ivory-framed photograph. He looked quickly at her. Her cheeks were of a rich rose hue, her eyes--he could not tell what her eyes were like. But she moved on toward the door. He followed her into the other room.

"Won't you stay a minute here, then? I don't care for it as I do the other, but--it's a place to talk in. And I haven't talked to you for--four months. It's the middle of June.... Let me show you this picture over here."

He succeeded in detaining her for a few minutes, which raced by on wings for him. He did it only by keeping his speech strictly upon the subject of art, and presently, in spite of his endeavours, she was off across the room and out of the door, through the hall and in the company of Mrs. Stephen and Mr. Matthew Kendrick. The pair, the old man and the girlish young mother, looked up from a collection of miniatures, brought out in continuance of the discussion over child faces begun by Rosamond's interest in the colour-drawing found upon Richard's walls. They saw a flushed and heart-disturbing face under a drooping white hat-brim, and eyes which looked anywhere but at them, though Roberta's voice said quite steadily: "Rosy, do you know how long we are staying?"

In explanation of this sudden haste another face appeared, seen over Roberta's shoulder. This face was also of a somewhat warm colouring, but these eyes did not hide; they looked as if they were seeing visions and noted nothing earthly.

"Why, Dick!" exclaimed Mr. Kendrick. "I didn't expect you till to-morrow." Gladness was in his voice. He held out welcoming hands, and his grandson came to him and took the hands and held them while he explained the errand which had brought him and upon which he must immediately depart. But he would come again upon the morrow, he promised. It was clear that the closest relations existed between the two; it was a pleasant thing to see. And when Richard turned out again toward the visitors he had his face in order.

Some imperceptible signalling had been exchanged between Roberta and Rosamond, and the call came shortly to an end, in spite of the old man's urgent invitation to them to remain.

"Do you see the roses they brought me, Dick?" He indicated the bowls and vases which stood about the room. "I told them you would notice them directly you came in. Where are your eyes, boy?"

"Do you really blame me for not seeing them, grandfather?" retorted his grandson audaciously. "But I recognize them now; they are wonderful. I suppose they have thorns?" His eyes met Roberta's for one daring instant.

"You wouldn't like them if they didn't," said she.

"Shouldn't I? I'd like to find one with the thorns off; I'd wear it--if I might. May I have one, grandfather?"

"Of course, Dick. They're mine now to give away, Miss Roberta? Perhaps you'll put it on for him."

Since the suggestion was made by an old man, who might or might not have been wholly innocent of taking sides in a game in which his boy was playing for high stakes, Roberta could do no less than hurriedly to select a splendid crimson bud without regard to thorns--she was aware of more than one as she handled it--and fasten it upon a gray coat, intensely conscious of the momentary nearness of a personality whose influence upon her was the strangest, most perturbing thing she had ever experienced.

The flower in place, she could not get away too fast. Rosamond, understanding now that the air was electric and that her sister wanted nothing so much as to escape to a safer atmosphere, aided her by taking the lead and engaging Richard Kendrick in conversation all the way downstairs to the door and out to the waiting carriage. As they drove away Rosamond looked back at the figure leaping up the steps, with the crimson rose showing brilliantly in the June sunshine.

"Rob, he's splendid, simply splendid," she whispered, so that the old family coachman in front, driving the old family horses, could not hear. "I don't wonder his grandfather is so proud of him. One can see that he's going to go right on now and make himself a man worth anybody's while. He's that now, but he's going to be more."

"I don't see how you can tell so much from hearing him make a few foolish remarks about some roses!" Roberta's face was carefully averted.

"Oh, it wasn't what he said, it's what he is! It shows in his face. I never saw purpose come out so in a face as it has in his in the time that we've known him. Besides, we began by taking him for nothing but a society man, and we were mistaken in that from the beginning. Stephen has been telling me some things Louis told him."

"I know. About the hospital and the children."

"Yes. Isn't it interesting? And that's been going on for years; it's not a new pose for our benefit. I've no doubt there are lots of other things, if we knew them. But--oh, Rob, his grandfather says he bought the little head in colour because he thought it looked like Gordon. I'm going to send him the last photograph right away. Rob, there's Forbes Westcott!"

"Where?"

"Right ahead. Shall we stop and take him in? Of course he's on his way to see you, as usual. How he does anything in his own office--"

"James!" Roberta leaned forward and spoke to the coachman. "Turn down this street--quickly, please. Don't look, Rosy--don't! Let's not go straight home; let's drive a while. It--it's such a lovely day!"

"Why, Rob! I thought--"

"Please don't think anything. I'm trying not to."

Rosamond impulsively put her white-gloved hand on Roberta's. "I don't believe you are succeeding," she whispered daringly. "Particularly since--this morning!"