Puslapio vaizdai
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"There was that about her that charmed Paul and made him sorry for her"

like mellowness that ill accorded with the fiction common to New England that had fallen Paul's way. He asked the name of the town at the post-office, and was told that it was Lebanon, a wooing word. It was a town that called for companionship and conversation. So, in a spirit of adventure rather than of scorn for the small hostelry, he asked who it was in town that might give a night's lodging, and learned from a clerk in a store that the Kellogg girls took in summer folks sometimes.

The house that had been pointed out to him was a sweet, rambling place, with sweet things growing about it; flowers and shrubs were in the yard. It was set back from the road, and one walked up a long brick path under sentinel sycamoretrees. On the front porch a lady was sitting. She was dressed, though Paul, naturally, did not know that, in a filmy sprigged dimity. Her beauty was of fragile delicacy; her dark eyes had a haunting and melancholy look. There was that about her that charmed Paul and made him sorry for her. He hoped that she was Miss Kellogg. She was. He hoped-and his tone was flattering-she had a room. The flattery of his voice did not escape her. It surprised from her a smile as dim as moonlight on a lake.

There was a charming air of faded gentility about the place; things had grown threadbare, as though loving hands had overbrushed and overpolished them. Old things shone dimly, and made mellow and caressing notes of color. He sat at ease, dreaming no evil, thinking no guile, utterly off his guard. A fine adventurous mood was that of poor Paul's. He was ready for anything.

He heard giggles within, young and hoidenish laughter, voices saying:

"Is it alive? Where did you get it, Aunt Miriam ?"

"Hush! hush! He 'll hear you." This was from her whom Paul had already fatuously named "the Lovely Lady."

"In a motor-car, o-oh! o-oh! I like his looks."

"Sh!" Again the Lovely Lady's voice mumbled something.

They burst out on him. They were young; one could n't tell whether the blonde or the brunette was older. They were pretty, the brunette dimpled, alluring, with bold, laughing eyes. Her mouth was made up as though for a kiss, and she stood nearer to Paul than there was any need. The blonde was slender, rose-leaf tinted, appealing. With a confiding gesture she sat down very near him in a little attitude of drooping expectancy. To take her hand would have been the most natural thing in the world.

How it happened Paul never remembered afterward, but he was soon in a game of romps, chasing Louise-for the two were quaintly named Clara and Louise Kellogg about the long lawn. She dodged him through the syringa-bushes; she led him a chase up a little hill, flaunting, alluring, making a pretense at repelling. When he finally captured her in a grape arbor, what on earth was there for him to do but to kiss her, I ask you? He did it; I never pretended that Paul Brockway shunned the obvious. When they came back, Louise protesting, pouting with an innocent air, then before the rest insolently daring him to kiss her.

The Lovely Lady had aged; the silent. years seemed to have slid over her in his absence. She sat quiet, composed, a generation away. Perhaps it was not their bounding vitality that had so wiped her out as their calm assumption of her belonging to another generation. "Aunt," "Aunt Miriam," "Auntie," dropped ceaselessly from their lips; and yet there was no line upon her brow, no dimming of her quiet color. She could not, Paul reflected, have been a day over thirty, if she was that; but one could not imagine her getting kissed in a grape arbor on sight, as it were, and somehow that episode was more exciting than the moonlit vistas of shy companionship which friendship with her offered him.

After dinner he found himself helping her with the dishes. Then there were more romps with Louise. She managed to do these things without giving the effect of any vulgarity. There was a spon

taneity in her high good humor, a heady quality about her bold, alluring ways. She was simply the sort of girl, Paul reflected, one had to kiss. God had evidently created her for that purpose, and she seemed to be perfectly willing to fulfil the designs of the Almighty.

A little out of breath, his pulses hammering, a feeling of being "a devil of a fellow" surging over him, he sat down on the front porch. The Lovely Lady was there; she looked at him with an unfathomable glance that suddenly made his heart beat faster, and that seemed to implore him mutely:

"Don't send me back into the shadow of years; don't envelop me with a fictitious mantle of age. You see, I'm young as spring, and as shy." Impulsively Paul said:

"Won't you take a turn to-morrow in my car?"

She hesitated; she smiled at him with adorable shyness.

"Oh, do come!" urged Paul.

"Very well," she said; and from the tone of her voice Paul gathered the touching information that this to her was a great adventure.

"It takes very little to satisfy some women," he reflected; and thought with anger of Consuela Dare who exacted so much of a man.

She left him. In a moment the blonde Clara was beside him. The front porch had benches running the length of it; four people might have sat there; Clara, evidently making room for two ghostly visitors, sat close to him. She looked up, her blue melting eyes in his face:

"I'm glad you 've come," she said softly.

"So am I," responded silly, innocent Paul.

"You are not just going to pass through Lebanon?" Her voice quivered a little. There was a touching quality to her that made Paul wish to comfort her.

"I think I'll stay a day or so," he said. A sigh of deep relief escaped her. From within came Louise's voice: "Clara!" it called.

"Yes," responded Clara, indolently. "Auntie wants you."

"All right," said Clara, amiably; she did n't move. "I don't care if she wants

"she announced in a gently triumphant tone. The low footfall of the Lovely Lady was heard. "Do you want me, Auntie?" called Clara.

"No, dear." Clara smiled subtly. "Clara?" said Louise.

Clara arose softly.

"Let 's walk," she said. There was a little thrill in her voice. "The streets are so sweet at night, with the linden-trees in bloom."

There was a witchery about her. Unresisting, Paul followed. They moved away like shadows, without speaking, wrapt in some vague enchantment. They were down at the gate before Louise's voice was again heard:

"Clara!" Under the electric light one might have observed that Clara again smiled subtly.

Time moved swiftly with Paul the next day. By the time dinner was over he had a little bit the feeling as though the movement had been as rapid as that in a moving-picture show. Between Clara and Louise he began to have a slightly breathless feeling. He strolled down to the end of the garden by himself, smoking to catch his breath, to reflect, complacently, upon their rather open-mouthed expression when he had driven off with "Auntie."

At the other side of the gray picketfence there was a rustic grape arbor; from the inside of the grape arbor came a rustling of skirts; a charming head protruded now, framed in vine leaves and delicate tendrils of brown curls-a face full of delicacy and piquancy, the nose tilted up, the wide, golden-brown eyes wild, while the mouth, with its delicately fashioned corners, was sophisticated. She had a long, straight throat.

"Hello, man!" she remarked.

"Hello, girl!" responded fatuous Paul. "I am not a girl," responded the sophisticated mouth, which, despite its words, held a wild wood note; "I 'm a widow, thank God!"

"Thank God!" echoed Paul, the obvi

ous.

"Come over and sit in my hammock with me," now invited the widow. "My name is Simone Drummond, and I 'm terribly bored.”

"We'll soon alter that," said Paul. "Oh, will we?" said Simone, clasping her hands. "Are you sure we will?"

"Absolutely," said Paul, who now, poor thing, was feeling slightly wicked and Anthony Hopeish.

They talked. She was young and lovely; she had been unhappy; when what she referred to as "his horrid estate" was settled, she would be rich. Paul need n't think because she used the vocabulary of levity that she had no mind; she had. She was a Feminist, very advanced; she hinted that her life had been such that only her natural goodness had kept her from being driven to extremes of opinion. Was Paul a Feminist? Oh, yes, indeed; Paul was anything that she liked. Oh, he held advanced views, most advanced! Did he believe in Ellen Key?

Paul had never heard of that lady, so he believed in her devoutly.

And why on earth was Louise Kellogg lashing up and down her back yard like a lioness deprived of her prey?

This, Paul wittily remarked, he could not tell her.

They both laughed at this. Already they were in that perilous state of mind when anything serves for a joke between a man and a woman. How advanced he was he now proved by dishing up some of Hemmingway's philosophic trash about men and women being more adventurous together.

When he left, it was almost supper-time. "One gets acquainted quickly in a desert," she remarked.

After supper he sat on the porch with the Lovely Lady. She had been young when she drove with him, touchingly so; but now the shadows of age had again mysteriously shut in about her. Despite her smooth skin, there was that about her that foreshadowed spinsterhood in a way that to Paul was touching and unbearable.

"She 's worth the whole lot of them," he thought vaguely. "The whole lot of them" stretched very wide, almost reaching the place where Consuela dwelt.

You may have observed that up to now Paul has had but little time to moon about concerning Consuela. What he was aware of was not having time enough for talk with the Lovely Lady.

His reflection concerning the Lovely Lady was now fulfilled by the appearance of a little shell-tinted wren of a girl. She was round and small, with quantities of soft, drab hair, gold at the points. She stood in a charming embarrassment before them. When she was introduced to Paul, she merely let her eyes rest on him like those of a child and said nothing. She was very young; there was something about her both touching and pleasing.

Her name, it seemed, was Clover Branch. Soon after having imparted this information to Paul, the Lovely Lady excused herself. She seemed, Paul reflected, to be always doing this in favor of the very young.

There was a silence; then, after a long sigh, Clover said:

"Oh, how I wish I were pretty like Clara and Louise!"

Paul found nothing whatever to say to this remark, which embarrassed him, except, "Why?"

To this Clover replied, with limpid in

nocence:

"So you'd like me better."

"I like you as you are," said Paul. What else would you have expected him to say?

"You 've passed my house a hundred times and never looked at me." Her voice was like the mourning of a dove; and now he perceived that it was a dove and not a wren that she resembled.

"And where do you live?" said Paul. "Next door."

Up to this there had been only one next door to Paul.

Then she covered her face with her hands.

"It 's awful," she said, "it 's awful for me to have come over here just to get

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"Come over and sit in my hammock with me,' now invited the widow. My name

is Simone Drummond, and I'm terribly bored""

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