Chapter IX. Mr. Kendrick Entertains
 

On their way downstairs, Matthew Kendrick and his grandson, escorted by Louis Gray, encountered a small company of people apparently just arrived from a train. Louis stopped for a moment to greet them, turned them over to his brother Stephen, whom he signalled from a stair-landing above, and went on down to the entrance-hall with the Kendricks.

"Too bad they're late for the party," he observed. "They had written they couldn't come, I believe. Mother will have to do a bit of figuring to dispose of them. But the more the merrier under this roof, every time."

"It's rather late to be putting people up for the night," Richard observed. "Your mother will be sending some of them to a hotel, I imagine. Couldn't we"--he glanced at his grandfather--"have the pleasure of taking them in our car? or of sending it back for them, if there are too many?"

"Thank you, but I've no doubt mother can arrange--" Louis Gray began, when old Matthew Kendrick interrupted him:

"We can do better than that, Dick," said he. He turned to Louis. "We will wait," said he, "while you present my compliments to your mother and say that it will give me great satisfaction if she will allow me to entertain an overflow party of her guests."

Hardly able to believe his ears, Richard stared at his grandfather. What had come over him, who had lived in such seclusion for so many years, that he should be offering hospitality at midnight to total strangers? He smiled to himself. But the next moment a thought struck him.

"Grandfather," he said hurriedly, "why not specially invite that delightful couple--the one they call 'Uncle Rufus' and his wife?"

"An excellent idea," Mr. Kendrick agreed, "though they might not be willing to make the change at so late an hour."

"People who were dancing with spirit ten minutes ago will be ready to travel right now," prophesied Richard. He took flying leaps up the stairs in pursuit of Louis. Catching him on the next floor, he made his request known. Louis received it without sign of surprise, but inwardly, as he hurried away, he was speculating upon what agencies could be at work with the young man, that he should be so eager to do this deed of extraordinary friendliness.

Mrs. Gray hesitated over Matthew Kendrick's invitation, although her hospitable home was already crowded to the roof-tree. But, taking Judge Calvin Gray into her counsels, she was so strongly advised by him to accept the offer that she somewhat reluctantly consented to do so.

"It's great, Eleanor, simply great!" he urged. "It will do my friend Matthew mere good than anything that has happened to him in a twelvemonth. As for young Richard--from what I've seen to-night you've nothing to fear from his part in the affair. Let them have Rufus and Ruth--they'll enjoy it hugely. And give them as many more as will relieve the congestion. Matthew could take care of a regiment in that stone barracks of his."

"Sending Rufus and Ruth would give me quite space enough," she declared. "Rufus has the largest room in the house, and I could put this last party there. It is really very kind of Mr. Kendrick, and I shall be glad to solve my problem in that way, since you think it best."

Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray, having the question put to them, acceded to it with readiness. Both had been warmly drawn toward Richard, and though his grandfather had seemed to them a figure of somewhat unnecessarily dignified reserve, the mere fact of his extending the invitation at all was to them sufficient proof of his cordiality.

"It's nothing at all to pack up," Mrs. Rufus asserted. "I'll just take what I need for the night, and we'll be coming over for the tree in the morning, so I can get my other things then. I shall call it a real treat to be inside the home of such a wealthy man. How lonely he must be, living in such a great house, with only his grandson!"

So Aunt Ruth descended the stairs, wearing her little gray silk bonnet and a heavy cape of gray cloth, her hand on her husband's arm, her bright eyes shining with anticipation. Aunt Ruth dearly loved a bit of excitement and seldom found much in her quiet life upon the farm. As Matthew Kendrick looked up and saw her coming slowly down, her husband carefully adjusting himself to the dip and swing of her step as she put always the same foot foremost, he found himself distinctly glad of his grandson's suggestion, since it gave him so charming a guest to entertain as Mrs. Rufus Gray.

In the interval Richard had retired to a telephone, and had made the wires between his present position and the stone pile warm with his orders. In consequence a certain gray-haired housekeeper, lately returned from some family festivities of her own and about to retire, found herself galvanized into activity by the sound of a well-known and slightly imperious voice issuing upsetting instructions to have the best suite of rooms in the house made ready within half an hour for occupancy, and the house itself lighted for the reception of the guests. Other commands to butler and Mr. Richard's own manservant followed in quick succession, and when the young man turned away from the telephone he was again smiling to himself at thought of the consternation he was causing in a household accustomed to be run upon such lines of conservatism and well defined routine that any deviation therefrom was likely to prove most unacceptable. He himself was at home there such a small portion of his time, and during the periods he spent there was so careful never to bring within its walls any festival-making of his own, he knew just how astonishing to the middle-aged housekeeper, the solemn-faced old butler, and the rest of them, would be these midnight orders. He was enjoying the giving of such orders all the more for that!

Old Matthew Kendrick assisted Mrs. Rufus Gray into his luxuriously fitted, electric-lighted town-car as if she had been a royal personage, wrapping about her soft, thick rugs until she was almost lost to view.

"Why, I couldn't be cold in this shut-in place," she protested. "Not a breath could touch any one in here, I should say."

"I should call it pretty snug," Rufus Gray agreed with his wife, looking about him at the comfortable appointments of the car. "But there's just one thing a carriage like this wouldn't be good for, and that's taking a party of young folks on a sleigh ride, on a snapping winter's night!" His bright brown eyes regarded those of Matthew Kendrick with some curiosity. "I reckon you never took that sort of a ride, when you were a boy?" he queried.

"Yes, yes, I have--many a time," Mr. Kendrick insisted. "And great times we had. Boys and girls needed no electricity to keep them comfortable on the coldest of nights. It's my grandson Richard who feels this sort of thing a necessity. Until he came home a carriage and pair had been all the equipage I needed."

"Grandfather is getting where a little extra warmth on a blustering winter's day is essential to his comfort," Richard declared, feeling a curious necessity, somehow, to justify the use of the expensive and commodious equipage in the eyes of the country gentleman who seemed to regard it so lightly.

"It's very nice," Mrs. Gray said quickly. "I should hardly know I was outdoors at all. And how smoothly it runs along over the streets. The young man out there in front must be a very good driver, I should think. He doesn't seem to mind the car-tracks at all."

"No, Rogers doesn't bother much about car-tracks," Richard agreed gravely. "His idea is to get home and to bed."

"It is pretty late--and I'm afraid waiting for us has made you a good deal later than you would have been," said Mrs. Gray regretfully.

"Not a bit--no, no."

"We'll go right to our room as soon as we get there," said she, "and you mustn't trouble to do a thing extra for us."

"It's going to be a great pleasure to have you under our roof," the young man assured her, smiling.

Arrived at the great stone mansion which was the well-known residence of Matthew Kendrick, as it had been of his family for several generations, Richard stared up at it with a sense of strangeness. Except for the halls and dining-room, his grandfather's quarters and his own, he could not remember seeing it lighted as other homes were lighted, with rows of gleaming windows here and there, denoting occupancy by many people. Now, one whole wing, where lay the special suite of guest-rooms used at long intervals for particularly distinguished persons, was brilliantly shining out upon the December night.

The car drew up beneath a massive covered entrance-porch, and a great door swung back. A heavy-eyed, elderly butler admitted the party, which were ushered into an impressive but gloomy and inhospitable looking reception-room. Matthew Kendrick glanced somewhat uncertainly at his nephew, who promptly took things in charge.

"I thought perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gray would have some sandwiches and--er--something more--with us, before they go to their rooms," Richard suggested, nodding at Parks, the heavy-eyed.

"Yes, yes--" agreed Mr. Kendrick, but Mrs. Rufus broke in upon him.

"Oh, no, Mr. Kendrick!" she cried softly, much distressed. "Please don't think of such a thing--at this hour. And we've just had refreshments at Eleanor's. Don't let us keep you up a minute. I'm sure you must be tired after this long evening."

"Not at all, Madam. Nor do you yourself look so," responded Matthew Kendrick, in his somewhat stately manner. "But you may be feeling like sleep, none the less. If you prefer you shall go to your rest at once." He turned to his grandson again. "Dick--"

"I'll take them up," said that young man, eagerly. He offered his arm to Aunt Ruth.

Uncle Rufus looked about him for the hand-bag which his wife had so hurriedly packed. "We had a little grip--" said he, uncertainly.

"We'll find it upstairs, I think," Richard assured him, and led the way with Aunt Ruth. "I'm sorry we have no lift," he said to her, "but the stairs are rather easy, and we'll take them slowly."

Aunt Ruth puzzled a little over this speech, but made nothing of it and wisely let it go. The stairs were easy, extremely easy, and so heavily padded that she seemed to herself merely to be walking up a slight, velvet-floored incline. The whole house, it may be explained, was fitted and furnished after the style of that period in the latter half of the last century, when heavily carpeted floors, heavily shrouded windows, heavily decorated walls, and heavily upholstered chairs were considered the essentials of luxury and comfort. Old Matthew Kendrick had never cared to make any changes, and his grandson had had too little interest in the place to recommend them. The younger man's own private rooms he had altered sufficiently to express his personal tastes, but the rest of the house was to him outside the range of his concern. The whole place, including his own quarters, was to him merely a sort of temporary habitation. He had no plans in relation to it, no sense of responsibility in regard to it. When he had ordered the finest suite of rooms in the house to be put in readiness for the guests, it was precisely as he would have requested the management of a great hotel to place at his disposal the best they had to offer. To tell the truth, he had no recollection at all of how the rooms looked or what their dimensions were.

Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray, entering the first room of the series, a large and elaborately furnished apartment with the effect of a drawing-room, much gilt and brocade and many mirrors in evidence, looked at Richard in some surprise, as he seated them. He himself went to the door of a second room, glanced in, nodded, and returned to his guests.

"I hope you will find everything you want in there," he said. "If you don't, please ring. You will see your dressing-room on the left, Mr. Gray. I will send you my man in the morning to see if he can do anything for you."

"I shan't need any man, thank you," protested Mr. Gray.

When, after lingering a minute or two, their young host had bade them good-night and left them, the elderly pair looked at each other. Uncle Rufus's eyes were twinkling, but in his wife's showed a touch of soft indignation.

"It seems like making a joke of us," said she, "to put us in such a place as this, when he can guess what we're used to."

"He doesn't mean it as a joke," her husband protested good-humouredly. "He wants to give us the best he's got. I don't mind a mite. To be sure, I could get along with one looking-glass to shave myself in, but it's kind of interesting to know how many some folks think necessary when they aren't limited. Let's go look in our sleeping-room. Maybe that's a little less princely."

Aunt Ruth limped slowly across the Persian carpet, and stood still in the doorway of the room Richard had designated as hers. Uncle Rufus stared in over her small shoulder.

"Well, well," he chuckled. "I reckon Napoleon Bonaparte wouldn't have thought this any too fine for him, but it sort of dazzles me. I'm glad somebody's got that bed ready to sleep in. I shouldn't have been sure 'twas meant for that, if they hadn't. There seems to be another room on behind this one--what's that?"

He marched across and looked in. "Now, if I was rich, I wouldn't mind having one of these opening right out of my room. What there isn't in here for keeping yourself clean can't be thought of."

"Rufus," said his wife solemnly, following him into the white-tiled bathroom, "I want you should look at these bath-towels. I never in my life set eyes on anything like them. They must have cost--I don't know what they cost--I didn't know there were such bath-towels made!"

"I don't want to wrap myself in a blanket," asserted her husband. "I want to know I've got a towel in my hand, that I can whisk round me and slap myself with. Look here, let's get to bed. We could sit up all night examining round into our accommodations. For my part, Eleanor's style of living suits me a good deal better than this kind of elegance. Her house is fine and comfortable, but no foolishness. There's one thing I do like, though. This carpet feels mighty good to your bare feet, I'll make sure!"

He presently made sure, walking back and forth barefooted across the soft floor, chuckling like a boy, and making his toes sink into the heavy pile of the great rug. He surveyed his small wife, in her dressing-gown, sitting before the wide mirror of an elaborate dressing-table, putting her white locks into crimping pins.

"Ruth," said he, with sudden solemnity, "I forgot to undress in my dressing-room. Had I better put my clothes on and go take 'em off again in there?"

He pointed across to an adjoining room, brilliant with lights and equipped with all manner of furnishings adapted to masculine uses.

His wife turned about, laughing like a girl. "Maybe in there," she suggested, "you could find a chair small enough to hang your coat across the back of. I'm afraid it'll get all wrinkled, folded like that."

Uncle Rufus explored. After a minute he came back. "There's a queer sort of bureau-thing in there all filled with coat-and-pants hangers," he announced. "I'm going to put my things in it. It'll keep 'em from getting wrinkled, as you say."

When he returned: "There's another bed in there," he said. "I don't know what it's for. It's got the covers all turned back, too, just like this one. Maybe we've made a mistake. Maybe there's somebody that has that room, and he hasn't come in yet. Do you suppose I'd better shut the door between?"

"Maybe you had," agreed his wife anxiously. "It would be dreadful if he should come in after a while. Still--young Mr. Kendrick called it your dressing-room."

"And my clothes are in there," added Uncle Rufus. "It's all right. Probably the girl made a mistake when she fixed that bed--thought there was a child with us, maybe."

"You might just shut the door," Aunt Ruth suggested. "Then if anybody did come in--"

Uncle Rufus shook his head. "It's meant for us," he asserted with conviction as he climbed into bed. "He said 'dressing-room' and pointed. The girl's made a mistake, that's all. It's a good place for my clothes, and I'm going to leave 'em there. Will you put out the lights?"

Aunt Ruth looked around the wall. "I can never get used to electric lights at Eleanor's," said she. "And I don't see the place here, at all."

She searched for the switches some time in vain, but at length discovered them and succeeded in extinguishing the lights of the room the pair were in. But the lights of the adjoining rooms still burned with brilliancy.

"Oh, dear!" she sighed softly. Then she appealed to her husband.

Uncle Rufus, who had nearly fallen asleep while his wife had been searching, spoke without opening his eyes. "Shut all the doors and leave 'em going," he advised,

"Oh, no, I can't do that! Think of the cost, running all night so."

"I reckon they can afford it," he commented drowsily.

But Aunt Ruth continued to hunt, first in the large outer room which looked like a drawing-room, and possessed an elaborate central electrolier whose control, even after she discovered the switch, caused the little lady considerable perplexity. When she had at length succeeded in extinguishing the illumination she returned, guided by the lights in the other rooms. The bathroom keys were soon found, and then she applied herself to discovering those in the dressing-room. These eluded her for some minutes, but at length, all lights being turned off, Aunt Ruth found herself in total darkness. She groped about in it for some time without success, for the heavy curtains had been closely drawn, and not a ray of light penetrated the spacious rooms from any quarter. After having followed the wall for what seemed an interminable distance without reaching a recognizable position, she was forced to call to her husband. He was asleep, and responded only after being many times addressed. Then he sat up in bed.

"Hey? What? What's the matter?" he inquired anxiously, peering into the darkness.

"Nothing, dear--only I couldn't find the bed after I turned the lights out. Keep on talking, and I'll work my way to you," answered his wife's voice from some distance.

Guided by his voice--he found plenty to say on the subject of putting people to bed in the midst of large, unfamiliar spaces--she groped her way to his side. He put out a gentle hand to welcome her, and as she took her place the two fell to laughing softly over the whole situation.

"Why," said Uncle Rufus, "for all I've slept for forty years in the same room--and a pretty sizable room I've always thought it--I've never got so I could plough a straight furrow through it in the dark. I reckon a lifetime would be too short to get to know my way round this plantation."

He could with difficulty be restrained from telling Richard about the incident next morning, when that young man came to their rooms to escort them down to breakfast.

"I'm glad to have somebody pilot me," Uncle Rufus declared, his eyes twinkling as he followed after his wife, who leaned on Richard's arm. "A man must have a pretty good sense of direction to keep his bearings in a house as big as this."

Richard laughed. "It's rather a straight road to the dining-room. I think I must have worn a path there since I came. Here we are--and here's grandfather down before us. He's the first one in the house to be up, always."

Matthew Kendrick advanced to meet his guests, shaking hands with great cordiality.

"It seems very wonderful, Madam Gray," said he, "to have a lady in the house on Christmas morning. Will you do me the honour to take this seat?" He put her in a chair before a massive silver urn, under which burned a spirit lamp. "And will you pour our coffee? It's many a year since we've had coffee served from the table, poured by a woman's hand."

"Why, I should be greatly pleased to pour the coffee," cried Aunt Ruth happily. Her bright glance was fastened upon a mass of scarlet flowers in the centre of the table, for which Richard had sent between dark and daylight. He smiled across the table at her.

"Are they real?" she breathed.

"Absolutely! Splendid colour, aren't they? I can't remember the name, but they look like Christmas."

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Rufus Gray had ever in their lives eaten such a breakfast as was now served to them. Such extraordinary fruits, such perfectly cooked game, such delicious food of various sorts--they could only taste and wonder. Richard, with a young man's healthy appetite, kept them company, but his grandfather made a frugal meal of toast, coffee, and a single egg, quite as if he were more accustomed to such simple fare than to any other.

The breakfast over, Mr. Kendrick took them to his own private rooms, to show them a painting of which he had been telling them. Richard accompanied them, having constituted himself chief assistant to Mrs. Gray, to whom he had taken a boyish liking which was steadily growing. Establishing her in a comfortable armchair, he sat down beside her.

"Now, Mr. Richard," said she, presently, while Mr. Matthew Kendrick and her husband were discussing an interesting question over their cigars in an adjoining room--Mr. Kendrick's adherence to the code of an earlier day making it impossible for him to think of smoking in the presence of a lady--"I wonder if there isn't something you would let me do for you. You and your grandfather living alone, so, you must have things that need a woman's hand. While I sit here I'd enjoy mending some socks or gloves for you."

Richard looked at her. The sincerity of her offer was so evident that he could not turn it aside with an evasion or a refusal. But he had not an article in the world that needed mending. When things of his reached that stage they were invariably turned over to his man, Bliss. He considered.

"That's certainly awfully kind of you, Mrs. Gray," said he. "But--have you--"

She put her hand into a capacious pocket and produced therefrom a tiny "housewife," stocked with thimble, needles, and all necessary implements.

"I never go without it," said she. "There's always somebody to be mended up when you least expect it. My niece Roberta tripped on one of her flounces last night, dancing--and not being used to dancing in such full, old-fashioned skirts. Rosy was starting to pin it up, but I whipped out my kit--and how they laughed, to see a pocket in a best dress!" She laughed herself, at the recollection. "But I had Robby sewed up in less time than it takes to tell it--much better than pinning!"

"How beautifully she danced those old-fashioned dances," Richard observed eagerly. "It was a great pleasure to see her."

"Yes, it's generally a pleasure to see Robby do things," Roberta's aunt agreed. "She goes into them with so much vim. When she comes out to visit us on the farm it's the same way. She must have a hand in the churning, or the sweeping, or something that'll keep her busy. Aren't you going to get me the things, Mr. Richard?"

The young man hastened away. Arrived before certain drawers and receptacles, he turned over piles of hosiery with a thoughtful air. Presently selecting a pair of black silk socks of particularly fine texture, he deliberately forced his thumb through either heel, taking care to make the edges rough as possible. Laughing to himself, he then selected a pair of gray street gloves, eyed them speculatively for a moment, then, taking out a penknife, cut the stitches in several places, making one particularly long rent down the side of the left thumb. He regarded these damages doubtfully, wondering if they looked entirely natural and accidental; then, shaking his head, he gathered up the socks and gloves and returned with them to Aunt Ruth.

She looked them over. "For pity's sake," said she, "you wear out your things in queer ways! How did you ever manage to get holes in your heels right on the bottom, like that? All the folks I ever knew wear out their heels on the back or side."

Richard examined a sock. "That is rather odd," he admitted. "I must have done it dancing."

"I shall have to split my silk to darn these places," commented Aunt Ruth. "These must be summer socks, so thin as this." She glanced at the trimly shod foot of her companion and shook her head. "You young folks! In my day we never thought silk cobwebs' warm enough for winter."

"Tell me about your day, won't you, please?" the young man urged. "Those must have been great days, to have produced such results."

The little lady found it impossible to resist such interest, and was presently talking away, as she mended, while her listener watched her flying fingers and enjoyed every word of her entertaining discourse. He artfully led her from the past to the present, brought out a tale or two of Roberta's visits at the farm, and learned with outward gravity but inward exultation that that young person had actually gone to the lengths of begging to be allowed to learn to milk a cow, but had failed to achieve success.

"I can't imagine Miss Roberta's failing in anything she chose to attempt," was his joyous comment.

"She certainly failed in that." Aunt Ruth seemed rather pleased herself at the thought. "But then she didn't really go into it seriously--it was because Louis put her up to it--told her she couldn't do it. She only really tried it once--and then spent the rest of the morning washing her hair. Such a task--it's so heavy and curly--" Aunt Ruth suddenly stopped talking about Roberta, as if it had occurred to her that this young man looked altogether too interested in such trifles as the dressing of certain thick, dark locks.

Presently, the mending over, the Grays were taken, according to promise, back to the Christmas celebrations in the other house, and Richard, returning to his grandfather, proposed, with some unwonted diffidence of manner, that the two attend service together at St. Luke's.

The old man looked up at his grandson, astonishment in his face.

"Church, Dick--with you?" he repeated. "Why, I--" He hesitated. "Did the little lady we entertained last night put that into your head?"

"She put several things into my head," Richard admitted, "but not that. Will you go, sir? It's fully time now, I believe."

Matthew Kendrick's keen eyes continued to search his grandson's face, to Richard's inner confusion. Outwardly, the younger man maintained an attitude of dignified questioning.

"I am willing to go," said Mr. Kendrick, after a moment.

At St. Luke's, that morning, from her place in the family pew, Ruth Gray, remembering a certain promise, looked about her as searchingly as was possible. Nowhere within her line of vision could she discern the figure of Richard Kendrick, but she was none the less confident that somewhere within the stately walls of the old church he was taking part in the impressive Christmas service. When it ended and she turned to make her way up the aisle, leading a bevy of young cousins, her eyes, beneath a sheltering hat-brim, darted here and there until, unexpectedly near-by, they encountered the half-amused but wholly respectful recognition of those they sought. As Ruth made her slow progress toward the door she was aware that the Kendricks, elder and younger, were close behind her, and just before the open air was reached she was able to exchange with Richard a low-spoken question and answer.

"Wasn't it beautiful? Aren't you glad you came?"

"It was beautiful, Miss Ruth--and I'm more than glad I came."

       *       *       *       *       *

Several hours earlier, on that same Christmas morning, Ruth had rushed into Roberta's room, crying out happily:

"Flowers--flowers--flowers! For you and Rosy and mother and me! They just came. Mr. Richard Loring Kendrick's card is in ours; of course it's in yours. Here are yours; do open the box and let me see! Mother's are orchids, perfectly wonderful ones. Rosy's are mignonette, great clusters, a whole armful--I didn't know florists grew such richness--they smell like the summer kind. She's so pleased. Mine are violets and lilies-of-the-valley. I'm perfectly crazy over them. Yours--"

Roberta had the cover off. Roses! Somehow she had known they would be roses--after last night. But such roses!

Ruth cried out in ecstasy, bending to bury her face in the glorious mass. "They're exactly the colour of the old brocade frock, Robby," she exulted. She picked up the card in its envelope. "May I look at it?" she asked, with her fingers already in the flap. "Ours all have some Christmas wish on, and Rosy's adds something about Gordon and Dorothy."

"You might just let me see first," said Roberta carelessly, stretching out her hand for the card. Ruth handed it over. Roberta turned her head. "Who's calling?" she murmured, and ran to the door, card in hand.

"I didn't hear any one," Ruth called after her.

But Roberta disappeared. Around the turn of the hall she scanned her card.

"Thorns to the thorny," she read, and stood staring at the unexpected words written in a firm, masculine hand. That was all. Did it sting? Yet, curiously enough, Roberta rather liked that odd message.

When she came back, Ruth, in the excitement of examining many other Christmas offerings, had rushed on, leaving the box of roses on Roberta's bed. The recipient took out a single rose and examined its stem. Thorns! She had never seen sharper ones--and not one had been removed. But the rose itself was perfection.