Chapter XVIII. The Way of the Heart
 

Anna Royanna was very tired, and she was sitting in an old easy chair waiting for the manager to come to take her to the hotel. She leaned back in a listless manner, with her inclined head leaning upon her right hand. It was a small hand, and very white. Her dark hair partly shrouded her face of singular beauty and sweetness. But lines of care were plainly visible, and as she waited there this night those lines deepened. She was much depressed, notwithstanding the reception she had received from the crowded house. She had been told that she was expected to sing at the matinee on the morrow, and this was not at all to her liking. She had been planning something of a far different nature. She had engagements for weeks ahead, and she had only come to St. John when asked to do so that she might carry out an idea which had long been in her mind. But now this must be abandoned for the present if she consented to sing at the matinee, as she must leave the city early the next morning.

While she was thinking over these things, the door softly opened, and John Markham entered.

"Are you ready to go?" she enquired.

"You are very tired," was the reply, "and it is no wonder. But you made a great hit to-night, and I have been almost swamped with requests from visitors who wish to see you. Some were determined to enter, especially women, and I had to be very firm, in fact almost rude."

"You were quite right, Mr. Markham," and the woman lifted her eyes to his face. "I have no desire to see such people. I know them only too well. They are quite willing to fawn upon me now when I have met with some success. But one time when I was poor and struggling they treated me like a dog. I suppose Mrs. Featson, Mrs. Juatty, Mrs. Merden, and other women of their set were there."

"Oh, yes, and they were most insistent. But how do you know of them?" and the manager looked astonished. "I thought that you were an entire stranger here."

"So I am, in a way," and a slight smile overspread the woman's face. "But I know those women to my sorrow. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to tell you more, but not to-night. Are you ready to go now?"

"Just a moment, Miss Royanna," and the manager motioned her not to rise. "There are two little boys outside, who are very anxious to see you."

"Boys! to see me?"

"Yes. They came from the country, and will not leave, so they say, until they see you."

"What do they want?"

"I do not know. But I am acquainted with one of the little chaps, as I met him this summer. I have a good story to tell you when you get rested. Shall I bring them in? They will not keep you long."

"Yes, let them come," was the reply. "I love boys; there is no pretence about them."

Rod's heart beat fast as he followed Mr. Markham into the presence of the great singer. What should he say? he asked himself. Would the woman be willing to go? Phil crept close at his heels, of no more use than a kitten.

As Rod approached, Miss Royanna held out her hand.

"So you want to see me?" she began. "I am not very often favoured with a visit from boys."

Rod felt more at home now. These words had put him at ease. He looked keenly into the woman's eyes, and what he saw there gave him great encouragement. In truth, Miss Royanna was much impressed with his manly bearing. He stood so erect, with his blue eyes looking straight into hers. For an instant there flashed into her mind the idea that she had seen those eyes before. Some chord of memory was stirred, which affected her in a remarkable manner. She tried to recall something, but in vain.

"You wish to speak to me, so I understand," she encouraged, noting Rod's embarrassment.

"Yes, please, if I may. But I'm afraid now that you won't do it."

"Do what?"

"Come to our concert."

"Your concert! Where is it to be held?"

"At Captain Josh's, and Whyn would like to hear you sing so much. You see, the scouts are getting up a concert to raise money, and we want some one to sing. Whyn is sick, and can't walk. She heard about you from her brother, Douglas. She couldn't come herself to hear you, so we have come to ask you to help us out, and sing for Whyn. It would be a great surprise for Whyn, as she knows nothing about what we are doing. We will give you half what we make at the concert."

John Markham turned suddenly around, so that the boys could not see the amusement upon his face. He wanted to laugh outright, so funny did it all seem. He longed to rush out and tell some of his friends the whole story. The thought of the famous woman being asked to go to sing in an out-of-the-way country place, and to receive half the proceeds, tickled him immensely.

Miss Royanna was also amused, and her eyes twinkled as Rod blurted out his request. And yet there was something about his straightforward manner which appealed to her. She thought, too, of the sick girl, and the spirit of true chivalry which had caused these two boys to come all the way to the city for her sake. How disappointed they would be when she told them how utterly impossible it would be for her to go.

"Where is this concert to take place?" she at length enquired.

"At Headquarters, just in front of Whyn's window, so she can see and hear," was the reply.

"Yes, but where? How far is it from the city?"

"Oh, I forgot that," and Rod smiled. "I thought everybody knew that Captain Josh lived at Hillcrest."

"Hillcrest, did you say?" the woman demanded, while a new interest shone in her eyes.

"Yes. It's on the river, about twenty-five miles from here. You could go up in the afternoon boat, and get there in plenty of time."

The woman sat up suddenly in her chair now, for an idea had stabbed her mind with a startling intensity. Could it be possible, she asked herself, that this is he? Those eyes recalled one whose memory was very dear, and that erect poise of the head, crowned with such golden curls, could belong to no one else. And he was from Hillcrest as well, the very place.

"Tell me," she said in a low voice, controlling herself as much as possible, "your name, my little man."

"Rod Royal," was the reply.

There was no doubt about it now, and involuntarily the woman reached out her arms toward him. She drew them back, however, and placed her hand to her forehead.

"Are you ill, Miss Royanna?" Mr. Markham enquired. "I am afraid that these boys are tiring you. They must leave at once."

"Yes, I do feel tired, and wish to get back to the hotel."

"And you won't go to the concert?" Rod questioned anxiously. "Whyn will be so disappointed."

The woman's eyes were now fixed full upon the boy's face. She saw his lips quiver, and her heart went out to him with one mighty rush. How she longed to clasp him in her arms, shower kisses upon his little tanned face, and tell him all. But, no, she must not do it yet. There was a reason why she should delay. With an effort, therefore, she restrained herself.

"Will you come with me to the hotel?" she asked. "We can talk it over there."

"But, Miss Royanna," the manager warned, who saw that she was much drawn toward the boys, "you must not make any rash promises, You are in great demand, and it will be a bitter disappointment to many if you do not sing tomorrow afternoon."

"Leave that to me, Mr. Markham. I shall not disappoint any one, not even these boys."

"And so you intend to go to the concert," the manager remarked, as they were being bowled swiftly along in the car to the hotel.

"Yes. Why should I not? There will be plenty of time after the matinee. I can hire a car to take me there, and bring me back in the evening. I shall enjoy the trip out into the country, for I am so tired of cities."

"But what will people think of your going to such a place to sing for a few country people?"

"I don't care what they think," and the woman's voice was severer than usual. "I know that I shall not be able to meet a number of society lights, for which I shall be most thankful."

Rod and Phil had never been in a large hotel before, and they gazed with wonder upon everything they saw. The elevator, which moved so easily upwards, was a great mystery. Then the large carpeted hallway through which they passed, where their footsteps could not be heard, and last of all the spacious room into which they were admitted, caused their eyes to bulge with astonishment. When they were comfortably seated in big chairs, with the singer sitting close to Rod, so she could watch his every movement, the talk naturally drifted off to Hillcrest. Rod told about the scouts, Whyn, the Britts, Miss Arabella, and his own life at the rectory. Miss Royanna led him deftly along to tell about these various people, especially Mr. and Mrs. Royal. Soon she learned much about Rod's daily work, what he was fond of most of all, and numerous other things concerning his life.

"Have you lived long with your grandparents?" she asked.

"Ever since I was a baby. I was left there one dark, wild night by my mother."

"And so you have never seen her?"

"No. But I have had letters from her, though. She's coming to see me sometime this summer."

"How nice that will be. Won't you be glad to see her?"

"In a way I will," was the slow, doubtful reply. "But I'm afraid that she'll want to take me away."

"Wouldn't you like to go with your mother? She must long for you so much."

"But I don't know her, you see. She's a stranger to me. I know that I ought to love my mother, but somehow I can't."

"Oh!" The exclamation came suddenly from the woman's lips. She clasped her hands before her, and stared hard into space. So this was the outcome of it all? she said to herself. This was all that she had gained by her years of struggle and self-denial. She had won fame and money, but what did they amount to when her only boy was a stranger to her, and knew not what it was to love his mother?

"You write to her, I suppose," she at last remarked.

"Oh, yes. Every week I get a letter, and I always answer it. She sends me money, too."

"Does she? Isn't that nice. You must have plenty of spending money, then."

"No," and Rod shook his head. "Grandad puts it all into the bank for me. It is to stay there, so he says, until I grow up, and it will be enough then to send me to college."

"And your grandfather never used any of the money your mother sent to pay for your board and clothing?"

"Not a cent of it. He said it wouldn't be right, because he loves me so much."

The woman remained silent for some time, and Rod thought that her face seemed very sad. Perhaps she was tired.

"Guess we'd better go now, Phil," and he turned to his companion who had not opened his lips once.

"What, so soon?" the singer enquired, rousing from her reverie.

"Yes. Mr. Dexter, he's Phil's father, will be waiting for us, and he'll think we are lost."

"Just a minute, Rod," and the woman laid her hand lightly on his shoulder, "how would you like to go with me in the car to Hillcrest tomorrow?"

Rod's eyes sparkled for an instant with pleasure. How he had often longed to ride along the road in a big car such as he had seen buzzing by. Suddenly his face grew grave.

"I'm afraid I can't," he slowly replied. "It will be late when you get there, and I must be at the concert to take my part. Captain Josh and the boys couldn't get along very well without me. I'm patrol leader, you know, and so must be there."

The woman noted the brief struggle between pleasure and duty, and the decision pleased her. She was disappointed, nevertheless, as she was hoping to have his company next day. She concealed her feelings, however, and smiled upon the boys as she bade them good night as they stepped out of the elevator. Then she turned back to the silence and solitude of her own room.