Puslapio vaizdai

face, and a look of pain and terror came into her eyes. She caught the puppy to her breast.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said I. "We'll take her up to my house, and Mrs. Burroughs and I will take care of her until we're sure she will be welcome in your house. She can be your dog just the same. Just now she's half starved, I expect, and I think the first thing to do will be to get her some milk."

In taking Meg to my hearth and home, I had undertaken a responsibility not without its difficulties. Mrs. Burroughs disapproved. Meg had to be house-broken and also to be cured of a tendency to sudden nausea. The problem of her diet had to be solved by experimentation, and she needed vermifuge. She repaid my efforts by sleeping in my easy-chair during the day and crying broken-heartedly at night. But her residence with me was the cause of frequent visits from Patricia, and that was compensation more than sufficient.


Meg and Patricia grew up together, and in this process the girl was far more successful than the dog, though I sometimes thought that the dog had the better care of the two.

Patricia's father went away on business for weeks at a time, and her mother was one of those ineffectual women who would have been utterly exasperating if her frequent severe headaches had not won compassion. Patricia's growing up was was very largely self-directed. She owed her warm-heartedness and her quickwittedness to no parental training.

It was with real concern for the future that I observed in Patricia

occasional signs of a wayward, rebellious, and passionate spirit. They enhanced her charm for me, but whither might this spirit, uncontrolled, one day lead her? My own efforts in the way of admonition were futile. She would not take seriously the parental rôle in me, and I was not fitted for it. Besides, Patricia was pretty. I believed she was going to be beautiful. be beautiful. There was There was a brief period of awkward long-leggedness, of a paradoxical hoydenish shyness; but it quickly passed, and almost suddenly, it seemed, a roundness appeared in limbs and bosom, the color came and went in her cheeks, and eyes and lips spoke of coming womanhood. What would become of my Patricia? It was very disconcerting.

Meg meanwhile grew up, but not beautifully. She lost her puppy awkwardness and stupidity, to be sure, but she always seemed to me a poor-spirited beast. Most of the admirable qualities that one esteems in a dog were not outstanding in her. She seemed normally intelligent but not brilliant. She slunk from strangers. She lacked talent. Beauty she did not possess. Yet there was something appealing about her too. Her very dependence made demands on me. And I loved her because Patricia did, and because she loved Patricia. Her devotion to her mistress, indeed, was her one great virtue.

Meg, being a harmless and selfeffacing dog, was at last admitted to the Barrington household (did I say that Patricia's last name was Barrington?), but she was brought back to me when they sent Patricia away to school. That was a troubled time

for me, not merely because Patricia had grown very dear to me and I knew I should miss her sorely; I could not help feeling that they were sending her away chiefly because she was becoming a problem with which Mrs. Barrington had no courage or capacity to cope. The sand-dunes and I had for some time been unable to hold Patricia. She had made friends at the village school. She had learned things from them that neither I nor her mother had taught her. At the age of sixteen she lighted a cigarette boldly in the dining-room, which sent her mother promptly to bed with a sick headache. When I expostulated with her, she only laughed, patted my cheek, and called me an old-fashioned dear. I had an uneasy conviction that at boarding-school she would learn other things besides Latin and algebra.

It was in May that Mr. Barrington came home to die and Patricia was sent for. I could see that some change had come upon her already. She had what I suppose the ladies would call style. Her skirts were very short, and her lips wore a redness which was not natural and which, it seemed to me, they in no way required. Yet her eyes looked into mine so honestly that I could not believe anything bad of Patricia. No doubt it was simply that I was old-fashioned and had never quite outgrown my Victorian prejudices.

I doubt if Patricia had ever loved her father very deeply, but her emotions were quickly stirred, and at this time she was conscious of grief and loss. I found her, after it was all over, sitting in the moonlight, among the dunes, alone save for the

faithful Meg, weeping quietly. I did what I could to comfort her, but she was deep in the gloom of selfreproach.

"I was never good enough to papa," she kept saying.

"Come," said I, "let's walk a little on the beach. You'll feel better."

We walked up and down, Meg plodding stolidly at our heels, while I tried to lead her thoughts into other channels, being inept at consolation. My heart went out to her with a sort of fierce tenderness.

Suddenly she stopped and looked into my face.

"But I'm so alone in the world," she cried tremulously. "Papa is gone, and mama is so helpless. I don't know where to turn, and there are so many things-" A sob choked her.

"I'm sure you have many friends. You have me, for one," I said, humbly enough.

She threw her arms impulsively around my neck.

"Oh, I know, Uncle Pymm, I know. I don't mean to be ungrateful. Please don't think I am. I love you, Uncle Pymm. You know I do."

Well, a man hasn't lost all his youth at forty-eight, and I do not pretend to be a Galahad. I had always loved Patricia. In that moment I loved her passionately. Her tear-washed eyes looked straight into mine. Her red lips were parted as though in eagerness. Her arms were about my neck, and I was keenly aware of her warm body pressed close to mine. For the moment I was scarcely sane. My arms leaped about her as though without my volition. My lips sought hers ruthlessly.

I ask for no condonement of my action, and yet somewhere within me there was a restraining monitor, a still small voice that admonished me, informing my more reasonable self of my madness. I knew that I should regret this; I knew that Patricia, young as she was, could never be mine. I knew somehow that it was not real love but rather a sudden emotionalism that had brought her arms about my neck, her face so close to mine, the unexpected words to her lips.

Slowly I withdrew my lips. In her eyes I saw doubt, surprise, perplexity. She did not seek to escape; she seemed rather to be waiting, uncertain.

What ally of chivalry or conscience or common sense came to my aid I do not know, but I became suddenly conscious, poignantly conscious of the fact that I loved her too much, too spiritually for this. I raised my arms and unclasped her hands, saying nothing. Indeed no mention of that mad moment has since passed between us. Awkward with my Awkward with my sense of guilt, I took her arm and led her home. Then I went back and had it all out with myself alone in the moonlight. Nothing like that has happened since or can ever happen again. Yet I cannot boast of being completely purged. To my dying day I shall treasure a sinful memory of the sweetness of that moment.

Alone, and yet not quite alone. I don't know what motive led Meg to turn at the door of her mistress and return with me to the sands. Perhaps some uncanny consciousness of my need. After I had won my foolish battle, I sat down and drew the old dog to me. The strange

sense of mutual understanding of which I have often been aware dates from that night. I shall never forget it-the moon sinking below the horizon, leaving the sea breathing in the darkness like a sleeping animal; the star-candles going out one by one behind the clouds; the sense of a near and comforting presence.

Patricia did not return to school. For one thing her mother, half prostrated, needed her. She did not care for school, and there was no one with sufficient authority to decide for her. She began somewhat aimlessly to drift, seeking diversion in the village or wandering with Meg along the shore. I felt that she needed guidance, but she seldom sought my counsel.

Then came the boy. His name was Conant-Rudolph Conant. His people came in June to occupy a cottage on the shore, and he drove, somewhat recklessly, a blue roadster. ster. I could not decide whether he was a nice boy or not. Patricia said he was, but I am not quite sure of present-day standards. He was generous, high-spirited, sophisticated. He was several years older than Patricia and had graduated from college; it seemed to me that he was carrying Patricia off her feet. In spite of her mother's querulous objections, she never seemed able to refuse him, at any hour of the day, if he came in his car to take her for a drive or to a dance. It was utterly impossible for me to keep track of her, to know where they went or what they did or when she got home. Naturally Patricia did not welcome leading questions, and it seemed to me that she was not quite frank with

me, which saddened and troubled


In my ignorance I did not know whether modern wooing was headed toward matrimony or not. Of course I could not ask Patricia, but one day I had an opportunity to touch on the subject. Some friend of Patricia's had been married and “carted off," as Patricia expressed it, to some awful place in the West, where the groom had found employment as a mining engineer.

"She was foolish," said Patricia. “She'll never have another bit of fun. Babies probably, and no servants. She might just as well have waited a few years.

"How old is she?" I asked. "Just my age-seventeen." "But that's too young to be married anyway.

It was in October, after Patricia's eighteenth birthday, that the affair came to a head. My telephone awoke me at two o'clock in the morning. It was Mrs. Barrington calling. She was a bit incoherent, but I gathered that Patricia had not appeared at home since the previous morning and had left no word of her intentions. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I strove manfully to hold the agitated mother to the point. It was true that Patricia had often been out with Rudolph later than this, but there were attendant circumstances, of which I failed to get the full significance, that caused the unusual worry. For one thing, Mrs. Barrington and Patricia had quarreled that morning, though this was not very uncommon. I was led to suspect that Patricia had said some

Patricia abruptly shifted her posi- thing unusually reckless and defiant


which had upset her mother and now

"Why so?" she asked. "I'm quite recurred to torture her. grown up, you know."

I had to admit that she was, though I could scarcely understand it.

At length I dressed and went over. Mrs. Barrington fluttered about in disorderly negligée and repeated what she had said over the wire. I

"You're not thinking of marrying did not succeed in gaining any furyet, are you, Patricia?"

"I'm not thinking of anything," she replied, a little defiantly. "Thinking spoils the fun."

I could not get over the feeling that Patricia was only a child, and yet there were times that summer when it seemed as if matrimony were the only answer to the problem. I had the old-fashioned notion that when one married one settled down. Patricia at present seemed to be running wild with her boy. There was talk about them that hurt me, but I knew it would do no good to tell Patricia of this. She would have scorned it.

ther information of consequence, but something of the mother's anxiety was communicated to me. A sense of catastrophe became more and more oppressive.

"Did Patricia take anything with her?" I asked. "Any baggage, I mean?"

"I don't know," wailed her mother. "I was so upset I didn't notice. I'll see."

I went with her into Patricia's room. Beside the bed, which had been somewhat hastily made up the morning before, lay old Meg, with her nose on her paws and with her

melancholy eyes open. She did not stir as we entered, but she moved her tail politely when I stooped to pat her. Patricia's suitcase and hat-box were in her closet, but a small overnight bag was missing.

"You'd better go to bed, Mrs. Barrington," said I. "I don't believe she'll be back before to-morrow."

"But where has she gone? What has she done?”

"God knows."

I quieted the mother as best I could and then hurried back to my own house, not because I hoped for sleep but to get away from her distracting company.

I went over again in the forenoon, and together we waited, Meg being the most patient and philosophical of the three. It was a dreadful day, what with Mrs. Barrington's eternal fussing and my own torturing thoughts. When at last I heard the sound of a car and Rudolph's roadster appeared on the road above the dunes, my heart almost stopped beating. Relief and dread beset me together. At least Patricia was in the car. She waved her arm above her head.

"Hello, folks," she cried gaily. "Did you think you'd lost me?"

Meg strode sedately out to meet her and received a casual pat. Rudolph followed her from the grinning broadly.


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grasp the idea of her being Mrs. Rudolph Conant. Somewhere in the back of my brain stirred the thought that if this were indeed so then we had lost Patricia Barrington forever, but at least she was respectably married. A confusing, contradictory frame of mind.

"Married!" gasped Mrs. Barring


Patricia laughingly embraced and kissed her, then turned and impulsively kissed me.

"Well," she cried, "why don't you congratulate us? This isn't a funeral."

During the month which followed I was gradually becoming accustomed to having Rudolph around in the rôle of Patricia's husband. I must say that he was very devoted and seemed bent on pleasing her, which meant giving her a gay time. She seemed very happy, yet somehow a little feverishly so. It was as though she were hurrying to suck all the joy she could from life before anything untoward happened. Then Rudolph, forced to face the material facts of life, took her away.

I thought she behaved a bit ruthlessly toward her mother at this time, though I am not sure that it wasn't the best thing that could have happened to Mrs. Barrington. For the first time since I had known her she seemed to show signs of standing on her own feet. I was not especially surprised that Patricia should slight me. Her life was very full, and our friendship was not the frank thing it had been in the old days. That may have been partly my fault. But it did hurt me to see Patricia so indifferent toward old Meg. It was not like the warm

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