The Pursuit of the Ideal by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Freda's snuggery was aglow with the rose-red splendour of an open fire which was triumphantly warding off the stealthy approaches of the dull grey autumn twilight. Roger St. Clair stretched himself out luxuriously in an easy-chair with a sigh of pleasure.
"Freda, your armchairs are the most comfy in the world. How do you get them to fit into a fellow's kinks so splendidly?"
Freda smiled at him out of big, owlish eyes that were the same tint as the coppery grey sea upon which the north window of the snuggery looked.
"Any armchair will fit a lazy fellow's kinks," she said.
"I'm not lazy," protested Roger. "That you should say so, Freda, when I have wheeled all the way out of town this dismal afternoon over the worst bicycle road in three kingdoms to see you, bonnie maid!"
"I like lazy people," said Freda softly, tilting her spoon on a cup of chocolate with a slender brown hand.
Roger smiled at her chummily.
"You are such a comfortable girl," he said. "I like to talk to you and tell you things."
"You have something to tell me today. It has been fairly sticking out of your eyes ever since you came. Now, 'fess."
Freda put away her cup and saucer, got up, and stood by the fireplace, with one arm outstretched along the quaintly carved old mantel. She laid her head down on its curve and looked expectantly at Roger.
"I have seen my ideal, Freda," said Roger gravely.
Freda lifted her head and then laid it down again. She did not speak. Roger was glad of it. Even at the moment he found himself thinking that Freda had a genius for silence. Any other girl he knew would have broken in at once with surprised exclamations and questions and spoiled his story.
"You have not forgotten what my ideal woman is like?" he said.
Freda shook her head. She was not likely to forget. She remembered only too keenly the afternoon he had told her. They had been sitting in the snuggery, herself in the inglenook, and Roger coiled up in his big pet chair that nobody else ever sat in.
"'What must my lady be that I must love her?'" he had quoted. "Well, I will paint my dream-love for you, Freda. She must be tall and slender, with chestnut hair of wonderful gloss, with just the suggestion of a ripple in it. She must have an oval face, colourless ivory in hue, with the expression of a Madonna; and her eyes must be 'passionless, peaceful blue,' deep and tender as a twilight sky."
Freda, looking at herself along her arm in the mirror, recalled this description and smiled faintly. She was short and plump, with a piquant, irregular little face, vivid tinting, curly, unmanageable hair of ruddy brown, and big grey eyes. Certainly, she was not his ideal.
"When and where did you meet your lady of the Madonna face and twilight eyes?" she asked.
Roger frowned. Freda's face was solemn enough but her eyes looked as if she might be laughing at him.
"I haven't met her yet. I have only seen her. It was in the park yesterday. She was in a carriage with the Mandersons. So beautiful, Freda! Our eyes met as she drove past and I realized that I had found my long-sought ideal. I rushed back to town and hunted up Pete Manderson at the club. Pete is a donkey but he has his ways of being useful. He told me who she was. Her name is Stephanie Gardiner; she is his cousin from the south and is visiting his mother. And, Freda, I am to dine at the Mandersons' tonight. I shall meet her."
"Do goddesses and ideals and Madonnas eat?" said Freda in an awed whisper. Her eyes were certainly laughing now. Roger got up stiffly.
"I must confess I did not expect that you would ridicule my confidence, Freda," he said frigidly. "It is very unlike you. But if you are not interested I will not bore you with any further details. And it is time I was getting back to town anyhow."
When he had gone Freda ran to the west window and flung it open. She leaned out and waved both hands at him over the spruce hedge.
"Roger, Roger, I was a horrid little beast. Forget it immediately, please. And come out tomorrow and tell me all about her."
Roger came. He bored Freda terribly with his raptures but she never betrayed it. She was all sympathy--or, at least, as much sympathy as a woman can be who must listen while the man of men sings another woman's praises to her. She sent Roger away in perfect good humour with himself and all the world, then she curled herself up in the snuggery, pulled a rug over her head, and cried.
Roger came out to Lowlands oftener than ever after that. He had to talk to somebody about Stephanie Gardiner and Freda was the safest vent. The "pursuit of the Ideal," as she called it, went on with vim and fervour. Sometimes Roger would be on the heights of hope and elation; the next visit he would be in the depths of despair and humility. Freda had learned to tell which it was by the way he opened the snuggery door.
One day when Roger came he found six feet of young man reposing at ease in his particular chair. Freda was sipping chocolate in her corner and looking over the rim of her cup at the intruder just as she had been wont to look at Roger. She had on a new dark red gown and looked vivid and rose-hued.
She introduced the stranger as Mr. Grayson and called him Tim. They seemed to be excellent friends. Roger sat bolt upright on the edge of a fragile, gilded chair which Freda kept to hide a shabby spot in the carpet, and glared at Tim until the latter said goodbye and lounged out.
"You'll be over tomorrow?" said Freda.
"Can't I come this evening?" he pleaded.
Freda nodded. "Yes--and we'll make taffy. You used to make such delicious stuff, Tim."
"Who is that fellow, Freda?" Roger inquired crossly, as soon as the door closed.
Freda began to make a fresh pot of chocolate. She smiled dreamily as if thinking of something pleasant.
"Why, that was Tim Grayson--dear old Tim. He used to live next door to us when we were children. And we were such chums--always together, making mud pies, and getting into scrapes. He is just the same old Tim, and is home from the west for a long visit. I was so glad to see him again."
"So it would appear," said Roger grumpily. "Well, now that 'dear old Tim' is gone, I suppose I can have my own chair, can I? And do give me some chocolate. I didn't know you made taffy."
"Oh, I don't. It's Tim. He can do everything. He used to make it long ago, and I washed up after him and helped him eat it. How is the pursuit of the Ideal coming on, Roger-boy?"
Roger did not feel as if he wanted to talk about the Ideal. He noticed how vivid Freda's smile was and how lovable were the curves of her neck where the dusky curls were caught up from it. He had also an inner vision of Freda making taffy with Tim and he did not approve of it.
He refused to talk about the Ideal. On his way back to town he found himself thinking that Freda had the most charming, glad little laugh of any girl he knew. He suddenly remembered that he had never heard the Ideal laugh. She smiled placidly--he had raved to Freda about that smile--but she did not laugh. Roger began to wonder what an ideal without any sense of humour would be like when translated into the real.
He went to Lowlands the next afternoon and found Tim there--in his chair again. He detested the fellow but he could not deny that he was good-looking and had charming manners. Freda was very nice to Tim. On his way back to town Roger decided that Tim was in love with Freda. He was furious at the idea. The presumption of the man!
He also remembered that he had not said a word to Freda about the Ideal. And he never did say much more--perhaps because he could not get the chance. Tim was always there before him and generally outstayed him.
One day when he went out he did not find Freda at home. Her aunt told him that she was out riding with Mr. Grayson. On his way back he met them. As they cantered by, Freda waved her riding whip at him. Her face was full of warm, ripe, kissable tints, her loose lovelocks were blowing about it, and her eyes shone like grey pools mirroring stars. Roger turned and watched them out of sight behind the firs that cupped Lowlands.
That night at Mrs. Crandall's dinner table somebody began to talk about Freda. Roger strained his ears to listen. Mrs. Kitty Carr was speaking--Mrs. Kitty knew everything and everybody.
"She is simply the most charming girl in the world when you get really acquainted with her," said Mrs. Kitty, with the air of having discovered and patented Freda. "She is so vivid and unconventional and lovable--'spirit and fire and dew,' you know. Tim Grayson is a very lucky fellow."
"Are they engaged?" someone asked.
"Not yet, I fancy. But of course it is only a question of time. Tim simply adores her. He is a good soul and has lots of money, so he'll do. But really, you know, I think a prince wouldn't be good enough for Freda."
Roger suddenly became conscious that the Ideal was asking him a question of which he had not heard a word. He apologized and was forgiven. But he went home a very miserable man.
He did not go to Lowlands for two weeks. They were the longest, most wretched two weeks he had ever lived through. One afternoon he heard that Tim Grayson had gone back west. Mrs. Kitty told it mournfully.
"Of course, this means that Freda has refused him," she said. "She is such an odd girl."
Roger went straight out to Lowlands. He found Freda in the snuggery and held out his hands to her.
"Freda, will you marry me? It will take a lifetime to tell you how much I love you."
"But the Ideal?" questioned Freda.
"I have just discovered what my ideal is," said Roger. "She is a dear, loyal, companionable little girl, with the jolliest laugh and the warmest, truest heart in the world. She has starry grey eyes, two dimples, and a mouth I must and will kiss--there--there--there! Freda, tell me you love me a little bit, although I've been such a besotted idiot."
"I will not let you call my husband-that-is-to-be names," said Freda, snuggling down into the curve of his shoulder. "But indeed, Roger-boy, you will have to make me very, very happy to square matters up. You have made me so unutterably unhappy for two months."
"The pursuit of the Ideal is ended," declared Roger.