Chapter IV. Pictures
 

Richard Kendrick had been guest at a good many dinners in the course of his experience, dinners of all sorts and of varying degrees of formality. Club dinners, college-class dinners, "stag" dinners at imposing hotels and cafes, impromptu dinners hurriedly arranged by three or four fellows in for a good time, dinners at which women were present, more at which they were not--these were everyday affairs with him. But, strange to say, the one sort of dinner with which he was not familiar was that of the family type--the quiet gathering in the home of the members of the household, plus one or two fortunate guests. He had never sat at such a table under his own roof, and when he was entertained in the homes of his friends the occasion was invariably made one for summoning many other guests, and for elaborate feasting and diversion of all kinds.

It will be seen, therefore, that Richard looked forward to a totally new experience, without in the least realizing that he did so. His principal thought concerning the invitation to the Grays' was that he should at last have the chance to meet again the niece of his employer, in a way that would show him considerably more of her as a woman than he had been able to observe on the occasion when they had so hurriedly finished a luncheon together, and she had escaped from him as fast as possible in order to set forth on a madcap adventure with her small brother.

On the day of which he expected to spend the evening with the Grays he found it not a little difficult to keep his mind upon his work with the Judge, and that gentleman seemed to him extraordinarily particular, even fussy, about having every fact brought to him painstakingly verified down to the smallest detail. When at last he was released, and he rushed home in his car to dress, he discovered that his spirits were dancing as he could not remember having felt them dance for a year. And all over a simple invitation to a family dinner!

As he dressed it might have been said of him that he also could be particular, even fussy. When, at length, he was ready, he was as carefully attired as ever he had been in his life--and this not only in body but in mind. It was curious, to his own observation of himself, how differently he felt, in what different mood he was, than had ever been the case when he had left his room for the scene of some accustomed pleasure-making. He could not just define this difference to himself, though he was conscious of it; but there was in it a sense of wishing the people he was to meet to think well of him, according to their own standards, and he was somehow rather acutely aware that their standards were not likely to be those with which he was most intimate.

When he entered the now familiar door of the Gray homestead he was surprised to hear sounds which seemed to indicate that the affair was, after all, much larger and more formal than he had been led to suppose. Strains of music fell upon his ears--music from a number of stringed instruments remarkably well played--and this continued as he made his entrance into the long drawing-room at the left of the hall, of whose interior he had as yet caught only tempting glimpses.

As he greeted his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gray, Judge Calvin Gray, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Gray, wondering a little where the rest of the family could be, his eye fell upon the musicians, and the problem was solved. Ruth, the sixteen-year-old, sat before a harp; Louis, the elder son, cherished a violin under his chin; Roberta--ah, there she was! wearing a dull-blue evening frock above which gleamed her white neck, her half-uncovered arms showing exquisite curves as she handled the bow which was drawing long, rich notes from the violoncello at her knee.

Not one of the trio looked up until the nocturne they were playing was done. Then they rose together, laying aside their instruments, and made the guest welcome. He had a vivid impression of being done peculiar honour by their recognition of him as a new friend, for so they received him. As he looked from one to another of their faces he experienced another of those curious sensations which had from time to time assailed him ever since he had first put his head inside the door of this house, the sensation of looking in upon a new world of which he had known nothing, and of being strangely drawn by all he saw there. It was not alone the effect of meeting a more than ordinarily alluring girl, for each member of the family had for him something of this drawing quality. As he studied them it was clear to him that they belonged together, that they loved each other, that the very walls of this old home were eloquent of the life lived here.

He had of course seen and noted families before, noted them carelessly enough: rich families, poor families, big families, little, newly begun families; but of a certain sort of family of which this was the interesting and inviting type he knew as little as the foreigner, newly landed on American shores, knows of the depths of the great country's interior. And as he studied these people the desire grew and grew within him to know as much of them as they would let him know. The very grouping of them, against the effective background of the fine old drawing-room, made, it seemed to him, a remarkable picture, full of a certain richness of colour and harmony such as he had never observed anywhere.

The evening did not contain as much of gay encounter with Roberta as he had anticipated--but, somehow, as he afterwards looked back upon it, he could not feel that there had been any lack. He had fancied himself, in prospect, sitting beside her at the table, exchanging that pleasant, half-foolish badinage with which young men are wont to entertain girls who are their companions at dinners, both nearly oblivious of the rest of the company. But it turned out that his seat was between his hostess and her younger daughter, Ruth, and though Roberta was nearly opposite him at the table and he could look at her to his full content--conservatively speaking--he was obliged to give himself to playing the part of the deferential younger man where older and more distinguished men are present.

Yet--to his surprise, it must be admitted--he found himself not bored by that table-talk. It was such table-talk, by the way, as is not to be had under ordinary roofs. He now recognized that he had only partially appreciated the qualities of mind possessed by Judge Gray--certainly not his capacity for brilliant conversation. Mr. Robert Gray was quite his elder brother's match, however, and more than once Kendrick caught Louis Gray's eye meeting his own with the glance which means delighted pride in the contest of wits which is taking place. All three young men enjoyed it to the full, and even Ted listened with eyes full of eager desire to comprehend that which he understood to be worth trying hard for.

"They enjoy these encounters keenly," said Mrs. Gray, beside Richard, as a telling story by Mr. Robert Gray, in illustration of a point he had made, came to a conclusion amid a burst of appreciative laughter. "They relish them quite as much, we think, as if they often succeeded in convincing each other, which they seldom do."

"Are they always in such form?" asked Richard, looking into the fresh, attractive face of the lady who was the mistress of this home, and continuing to watch her with eyes as deferential as they were admiring. She, too, represented a type of woman and mother with which he was unfamiliar. Grace and charm in women who presided at dinner-tables he had often met, but he could not remember when before he had sat at the right hand of a woman who had made him begin, for almost the first time in his life, to wonder what his own mother had been like.

"Nearly always, at night, I think," said she, her eyes resting upon her husband's face. Richard, observing, saw her smile, and guessed, without looking, that there had been an exchange of glances. He knew, because he had twice before noted the exchange, as if there existed a peculiarly strong sympathy between husband and wife. This inference, too, possessed a curious new interest for the young man--he had not been accustomed to see anything of that sort between married people of long standing--not in the world he knew so well. He seemed to be learning strange new possibilities of existence at every step, since he had discovered the Grays--he who at twenty-eight had not thought there was very much left in human experience to be discovered.

"Is it different in the morning?" Richard inquired.

"Quite different. They are rather apt to take things more seriously in the morning. The day's work is just before them and they are inclined to discuss grave questions and dispose of them. But at night, when the lights are burning and every one comes home with a sense of duty done, it is natural to throw off the weights and be merry over the same matters which, perhaps, it seemed must be argued over in the morning. We all look forward to the dinner-table."

"I should think you might," agreed Richard, looking about him once more at the faces which surrounded him. He caught Roberta's eye, as he did so--much to his satisfaction--and she gave him a straightforward, steady look, as if she were taking his measure for the first time. Then, quite suddenly, she smiled at him and turned away to speak to Ted, who sat by her side.

Richard continued to watch, and saw that immediately Ted looked his way and also smiled. He wanted so much to know what this meant, that, as soon as dinner was over and they were all leaving the room, he fell in with the boy and, putting his hand through Ted's arm, whispered with artful intent: "Was my tie under my left ear?"

Ted stared up at him. "Your tie's all right, Mr. Kendrick."

"Then it wasn't that. Perhaps my coat collar was turned up?"

"Why, no," the boy laughed. "You look as right as anything. What made you think--"

"I saw you and your sister laughing at me and it worried me. I thought I must be looking the guy some way."

Ted considered. "Oh, no!" he said. "She asked me if I thought you were enjoying the dinner as well as you would have liked the corn-popping."

"And what did you decide?"

"I said I couldn't tell, because I never saw you at a corn-popping. I asked her that day we went to walk why she wouldn't ask you to it, but she just said you were too busy to come. I didn't think you acted too busy to come," he said naively, glancing up into Richard's down-bent face.

"Didn't I? Haven't I looked very busy whenever you have seen me in your uncle's library?"

Ted shook his head. "I don't think you have--not the way Louis looks busy in father's office, nor the way father does."

Richard laughed, but somehow the frank comment stung him a little, as he would not have imagined the comment of an eleven-year-old boy could have done. "See here, Ted," he urged, "tell me why you say that. I think myself I've done a lot of work since I've been here, and I can't see why I haven't looked it."

But Ted shook his head. "I don't think it would be polite to tell you," he said, which naturally did not help matters much.

Still holding the lad's arm, Richard walked over to Roberta, who had gone to the piano and was arranging some sheets of music there.

"Miss Gray," he said, "have you accomplished a great deal to-day?"

She looked up, puzzled. "A great deal of what?" she asked.

"Work--endeavour--strenuous endeavour."

"The usual amount. Lessons--and lessons--and one more lesson. I have really more pupils than I can do justice to, but I am promised an assistant if the work grows too heavy," she answered. "Why, please?"

"I've been wondering if the motto of the Gray family might be 'Let us, then, be up and doing.' Ted gives me that notion."

Roberta glanced at Ted, whose face had grown quite grave. "Can you tell him what the motto is, Ted?"

"Of course I can," responded Ted proudly. "It's Hoc age."

Richard hastily summoned his Latin, but the verb bothered him for a minute. "This do," he presently evolved. "Well, I should say I came pretty near it."

"What's yours?" the boy now inquired.

"My family motto? I believe it is Crux mihi ancora; but that doesn't just suit me, so I've adopted one of my own"--he looked straight at Roberta--"Dum vivimus, vivamus. Isn't that a pleasanter one in this workaday world?"

Ted was struggling hard, but his two months' experience with the rudiments of Latin would not serve him. "What do they mean?" he asked eagerly.

"The second one means," said Roberta, with her arm about the slim young shoulders, "'While we live, let us live--well.'" Her eyes met Richard's with a shade of defiance in them.

"Thank you," said he. "Do you expect me to adopt the amendment?"

"Why not?"

"Even you--take cross-country runs."

She nodded. "And am all the better teacher for them next day."

He laughed. "I should like to take one with you some time," said he. He saw Judge Gray coming toward them. "I wonder if I'm likely ever to have the chance," he added hurriedly.

"You take a cross-country run when you could have a sixty-mile spin in that motor-car of yours instead?"

"I couldn't go cross-country in that. You see I've been by the beaten track so much I should like to try exploring something new."

He was eager to say more, but Judge Gray, coming up to them, laid an affectionate hand on his niece's shoulder.

"She doesn't look the part she plays by day, does she?" he said to Richard. "Curious, how times have changed. In my day a teacher looked a teacher every minute of her time. One stood in awe of her--or him--particularly of her. A prim, stuff gown, hair parted in the middle and drawn smoothly away"--his glance wandered from Roberta's ivory neck to the dusky masses of her hair--"spectacles, more than likely--with steel bows. And a manner--ye gods--the manner! How we were impressed by it! Well, well! Fine women they were and true to their profession. These modern girls who look younger than their pupils--" He shook his head with an air of being quite in despair about them.

"Uncle Calvin," said Roberta, demurely, with her hand upon his arm, "do tell Mr. Kendrick about your teaching school 'across the river' when you were only sixteen years old."

And, of course, that settled the chance of Richard's hearing anything about Roberta's teaching, for, though Judge Gray was called out of the room in the midst of his story, Stephen and Louis came up and joined the group and switched the talk a thousand miles away from schools and school-teaching.

Presently there was music again, and this time Richard found himself sitting beside young Mrs. Stephen Gray. Between numbers he found questions to ask, which she answered with evident pleasure.

"These three must have been playing together a good many years?"

"Dear me, yes--ever since they were born, I think. They do make real harmony, don't they?"

"They do--in more ways than one. Is that colour scheme intentional, do you think?"

Mrs. Stephen's glance followed his as it dwelt upon the group. "I hadn't noticed," she admitted, "but I see it now; it's perfect. And I've no doubt Ruth thought it out. She's quite a wonderful eye for colour, and she worships Rob and likes to dress so as to offset her--always giving Rob the advantage--though of course she would have that, anyway, by virtue of her own colouring."

"Blue and corn-colour--should you call it?--and gold. Dull tints in the background, and the candle-light on Miss Ruth's hair and her sister's cheek. It makes the prettiest picture yet in my new collection of family groups."

Mrs. Stephen looked at him curiously. "Are you making a collection of family groups?" she inquired. "Beginning away back with your first memories?"

"My first memories are not of family groups--only of nurses and tutors, with occasional portraits of my grandfather making inquiries as to how I was getting on. And my later memories are all of school and college--then of travel. Not a home scene among them."

"You poor boy!" There was something maternal in Mrs. Stephen's tone, though she looked considerably younger than the object of her pity. "But you must have looked at plenty of other family groups, if you had none of your own."

"That's exactly what I haven't done."

"But you've lived--in the world," she cried under her breath, puzzled.

A curious expression came into the young man's face. "That's exactly what I have done," he said quietly. "In the world, not in the home. I've not even seen homes--like this one. The sight of brother and sisters playing violin and harp and 'cello together, with the father and mother and brother and uncle looking on, is absolutely so new to me that it has a fascination I can't explain. I find myself continually watching you all--if you'll forgive me--in your relations to each other. It's a new interest," he admitted, smiling, "and I can't tell you what it means to me."

She shook her head. "It sounds like a strange tale to me," said she, "but I suppose it must be true. How much you have missed!"

"I'm just beginning to realize it. I never knew it till I began to come here. I thought I was well enough off--it seems I'm pretty poor."

It was rather a strange speech for a young man of his class to make. Possibly it indicated the existence of those "brains" with which his grandfather had credited him.

"Well, Rob, do you think he had as dull a time as you said he would have?"

The inquirer was Ruth. She stood, still in the corn-coloured frock, in the doorway of her sister's room, from which her own opened. "Please unhook me," she requested, approaching Roberta and turning her back invitingly.

Roberta, already out of the blue-silk gown, released her young sister from the imprisonment of her hooks and eyes.

"His manners are naturally too good to make it clear whether he had a dull time or not," was Roberta's non-committal reply.

"I don't believe his manners are too good to cover up his being bored, if he was bored," Ruth went on. "He certainly wasn't bored all the time, anybody could tell that. He's very good-looking, isn't he?"

"If you care for that sort of good looks--yes."

"What sort?"

"The kind that doesn't express anything--except having had a good time every minute of one's life."

"Why, Rob, what's the matter with you? Anybody would think you had something against poor Mr. Kendrick."

"If he were 'poor Mr. Kendrick' there might be a chance of liking him, for he would have had to do something."

Roberta was pulling out hairpins with energy, and now let the whole dark mass tumble about her shoulders. The half-curling locks were very thick and soft, and as she shook them away from her face she reminded Ruth of a certain wild little Arabian pony of her own.

"You throw back your head just like Sheik when he's going to bolt," Ruth cried, laughing. "I wish my hair were like that. It looks perfectly dear whatever you do with it, and mine's only pretty when it's been put just right."

"It certainly was put just right to-night then," said a third voice, and Rosamond, Stephen's wife, appeared in Roberta's half-open door. "May I come in? Steve hasn't come up yet, and I'm so comfortable in this loose thing I want to sit up a while and enjoy it."

Rosamond looked hardly older than Roberta; there were times when she looked younger, being small and fair. Ruth considered her quite as much of a girl as either herself or Roberta, and welcomed her eagerly to the discussion in which she herself was so much interested.

"Rosy," was her first question, "did you think our guest was bored to-night?"

"Bored?" exclaimed Mrs. Stephen in surprise. "Why should he be? He didn't look it whenever I observed him. And if you had seen him when the trio was playing you wouldn't have thought so. By the way, he has an eye for colour. He noticed how your frock and Rob's went together in the candle-light, with the harp to give a touch of gold."

"Did he say so?" cried Ruth in delight.

"He asked if the colour scheme was intentional. I said I thought it probably was--on your part. Rob never thinks of colour schemes."

"Neither does any man," murmured Roberta from the depths of the hair she was brushing with an energetic arm. "Unless it happens to be his business," she amended.

"Rob doesn't like him," declared Ruth, "just because he has money and good looks and doesn't work for his living, and likes pretty colour schemes. He probably gets that from having seen so much wonderful art in his travels. Aren't painters just as good as bridge-builders? Rob doesn't think so. She wants every man to get his hands grubby."

Roberta turned about, laughing. "This one isn't even a painter. Go to bed, you foolish, analytical child. And don't dream of the beautiful guest who admired your corn-coloured frock."

"He only liked it because it set off your blue one," Ruth shot back.

"He said nothing whatever about my lovely new white gown," Rosamond called after her.

Roberta came up to her sister-in-law from behind and put both arms about her. "Stephen came and whispered in my ear to-night," said she, "and wanted to know if I had ever seen Rosy look sweeter. I said I had--an hour before. He asked what you had on, and I said, 'A gray kimono--and the baby on her arm.' He smiled and nodded--and I saw the look in his eyes."

"Rob, you're the dearest sister a girl ever had given to her," Rosamond answered, returning the embrace.

"And yet you two say I don't care for colour schemes," Roberta reminded her as she returned to her hair-brushing. "I care enough for them to want them made up of colours that will wash--warranted not to fade--that will stand sun and rain and only grow the more beautiful!"

"What are you talking about now, dear?" laughed Rosamond happily, still thinking of what Stephen had said to Roberta.