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It was months since Alice had seen Kimberly.But not until now did she realize with someapprehension how much he had been in her mind allwinter. The near prospect of meeting himdisturbed her and she felt an uneasiness at the thought.It was too late to change the route. She felt shehad been wrong not to give orders for the northroad in time. Then the notion came that shemust meet him sometime, anyway, and wheneverthey met he must be kept within bounds she hadset many times since their last hour together. Shecould see in the distance The Towers gates andthe lodge, sentinel-like, away up the road. Themere sight of the familiar entrance broughtKimberly up sharply. The chauffeur checked thecar to ask whether he should drive through thegrounds. Fritzie said, "Yes."
Alice corrected her, "No, no."
"Why, my dear," exclaimed Fritzie, "not stopto speak to Robert!"
"It will delay us, and I am crazy to get home."
"But it will cut off two miles!"
"And keep us an hour."
"It won't keep us five minutes and the groundsare beautiful."
"We will see them to-morrow. Drive straightahead, Peters."
Fritzie protested as they flew past the lodge."I feel like a heathen going by The Towers inthis way. I hope Robert won't hear of it."
"I will take all the blame," returned Alice, witha bravado she did not feel. Then she laid herhand on Fritzie's arm. "You may come backright after luncheon."
When they reached the hill beyond Black Rockthey saw Cedar Point lying below in the sunshineof the lake. Alice cried out at the beauty of it.Her spirits rose with an emotion that surprised her.For an instant she could not speak. Her eyesmoistened and the load that had oppressed her amoment earlier took wings. Before she had quiterecovered, the car was down the hill and speedingthrough the green gates, up the winding avenueof maples, and swinging in an alarming ellipsearound to the front of the house.
She ran in through the open doors as if she hadleft it all but yesterday. Flowers were everywhere.She passed from room to room with the bubblingspirits of a child and dropped at last into her ownlittle chair at her toilet table. Annie, infected withthe happiness of her mistress, was wreathed insmiles as she took her hat, while Fritzie, sitting industy veil and gloves, telephone in hand, wascalling The Towers and in the same breath beggingher maid to prepare her bath. No response toFritzie's telephone message came until late in theafternoon. About four o'clock Robert Kimberlycalled her up.
"I hear you have arrived," he said.
"This is a pretty time for you to be answering,Robert. Where have you been all day?"
"Driving with Francis. He hasn't been verywell lately. I took him over to the Sound. Howis Mrs. MacBirney, Fritzie?"
"Come over and see."
"Call her to the telephone."
Alice took the receiver. "How do you do, Mr. Kimberly?"
"Glad to hear your voice. Fritzie has beentelling me stories about you all winter."
Alice controlled the pleasant excitement thatcame with the familiar sound of his own voice."You mustn't believe the stories you hear," shelaughed."How are you all?"
"One story to-day sounded pretty straight."
"Sometimes those are the least reliable. Howis your uncle?"
"Still I shall have to have it out with you-passingus by this morning."
"But you weren't at home."
"Worse and worse-you didn't know that."
She laughed again happily. "You may scold asmuch as you like, I'm so happy to get home I'mwalking on air."
"How do you manage that? I never can getup any excitement over getting home. I wish Imight come and see how it affects you."
"Unfortunately I am leaving to-night for theSouthwest."
"For the Southwest?" she echoed in surprise."But we heard of you just back from the West."
"Yes, and with some stories for you. Thistime it is New Orleans and a terminal project."
"So busy a man! I hope we shall see you whenyou return."
"I certainly hope so. If I didn't, I shouldn'tgo. By-the-way," he added humorously, "I seemto have dropped something."
"What can it be?"
"The string you held out a minute ago."
Alice's eyes danced but only the telephonereceiver saw them. "What string?"
"About letting me come over. A car was set inthis afternoon at Sunbury but the train doesn'tpick me up till eleven o'clock to-night. I mightrun over to see you on my way down-"
"Oh, by all means, do, Mr. Kimberly."
" – just to see how you look when you are happy."
"Do come; but I am always happy."
He hesitated a moment. "If I were sure of thatI might not come."
"You may be 'sure,' I assure you. And why, pray, shouldn't you come?"
He retreated easily. "Because in that case Icould see your happiness, without intruding onyou when you are tired-as you must be now.However, I will run in for a few moments afterdinner."
Kimberly appeared shortly before nine o'clock.Fritzie greeted him. "Oh, aren't you youthfulto-night?" she exclaimed. He was in a travellingsuit and his face was tanned from his Westerntrip. "You should never wear anything but gray,Robert."
"Has she been as agreeable as this all winter?"asked Kimberly turning to greet Alice.
"All winter," declared Fritzie, answering forherself, "except once when Lottie Nelson's dogchewed up a lace hat for me, and Robert, I havespent this whole winter saying good things aboutyou-haven't I Alice? Even when we saw theywere trying to put you in jail."
"Many worthy people seemed to sympathizewith that effort," responded Kimberly dryly. "Itrust you didn't?" he added turning to Alice.
"I? Not in the least. If they had succeeded,I should have brought you flowers."
The three sat down. Kimberly looked at Alice."What have you been doing all winter?"
"Listen to that!" exclaimed Fritzie. "Why,we've been as busy as ants all winter."
"Fritzie would never allow you to do nothing,"said Kimberly. "You met a lot of people shetells me."
"I said 'nothing,' because the time went sofast I found no time to do anything I had intended to."
Fritzie objected again: "You kept at yoursinging all winter, didn't you?"
Kimberly showed interest at once. "Good!Let us hear now how your voice sounds in thecountry air."
"I haven't any songs."
"You threw some into the wicker trunk,"interposed Fritzie.
"Find them, Fritzie, do," said Kimberly. "Andwhat else did you do?" he asked of Alice asFritzie ran upstairs.
"Everything that country people do," respondedAlice. "And you've been West? Tell me all about it."
Kimberly looked very comfortable in a Romanchair as he bent his eyes upon her. "Hardly aspot in Colorado escaped me this time. And Iwent to Piedmont-"
"To Piedmont?" cried Alice. "Oh, to seethe little factory."
"To see the house you lived in when you were there."
"What possible interest could that poor cottagehave for any one? You must have realized thatwe began housekeeping very modestly."
He brushed her suggestion away with a gesture.
"I wanted to see it merely because you had livedin it." He waited a moment. "Can't youunderstand that?"
"Frankly, I cannot."
"St. Louis was very interesting," he went on.
"Oh, I love St. Louis!" Alice exclaimed.
"So do I," assented Kimberly. "And inSt. Louis I went to see the house you were born in.It was worth looking at; your father's house wasa house of character and dignity-"
"Why, thank you!"
" – Like many of the older houses I ran acrossin searching it out-"
Alice seemed unable to rise quite above herembarrassment. "I can hardly believe you arenot making fun of me. What ridiculous questsin St. Louis and in Piedmont! Surely there musthave been incidents of more importance thanthese in a three-weeks' trip."
He ignored her comment. "I stood a long timestaring at your father's house, and wishing Imight have been born in that little old cottagejust across the street from where that rich littlegirl of sixteen lived. I would rather have knownyou then than lived all I have lived since you wereborn there."
Alice returned his look with control of everyfeature. "I did not live there till I was sixteen,if you mean the old home. And if you had beenborn just across the street you would have had noabsurd idea about that little girl in your head.Little girls are not usually interested in little boysacross the street. Little boys born thousands ofmiles away have better chances, I think, ofknowing them. And it is better so-for they, at least, don't know what absurd, selfish little things girlsacross the street are."
"That is all wrong-"
"It is not," declared Alice pointedly.
But the force of everything she said was sweptaway by his manner. "Only give me the samestreet and the meanest house in it!" Hisintensity would not be answered. "I would have takenthe chances of winning."
"And I'd have done it or torn the house down."
Fritzie came back. "I can't find the musicanywhere."
Kimberly rose to go to the music room. "Nomatter," he persisted, "sing anything you canremember, Mrs. MacBirney-just sing."
It seemed easier, as it always seemed whenKimberly persisted, to consent than to decline.Alice sang an English ballad. Then a scrap-allshe could remember-of a Moskowski song; thenan Italian ballad. Kimberly leaned on the piano.
"Do you like any of those?" asked Alice withher hands running over the keys.
"All of them. But what was the last?"
"An Italian air."
"Yes, I remember it-in Italy. Sing it again, will you?"
"Tell me about that song," he said when shehad repeated it. "It is lovely."
"I don't know much. It is a very old song."
"Have I ever told you about a villa on LagoMaggiore?"
"Fritzie has told me. She says it is a dream."
"I should like to hear you sing that song theresometime."
The moon was rising when Kimberly left forthe train. Fritzie objected to his going. "Giveup your trip. Stay over to-night. What's thedifference?"
"I can't, Fritzie. I'm going like a minstrelshow, billed for one-night stands. I have engagementsahead of me all the way and if I miss a dayI upset the whole schedule."
"What's it all about?"
"A railroad terminal and reorganization. AndI've just time to get around and back for Charles'sreturn."
"And the country dance!" said Fritzie.
"Dolly's country dance," explained Alice.
"Good. I don't want to miss that."
Fritzie caught his sleeve. "You disappointedus last year."
"You may count on me," promised Kimberly.
Fritzie pouted. "I know what that means,'don't count on me!'"
"This time," returned Kimberly as the doorof his motor-car was opened for him, "it isn'tgoing to mean that, Fritzie."
MacBirney followed his household to thecountry after two weeks. The De Castroswere then back and Dolly enlisted Alice andFritzie to make ready for the dance at Black Rockbarn which regularly signalized at Second Lakewhat Nelson termed the "opening of navigation."
Alice, with Fritzie to help, was charged with thedecorations for the event, and two days before it, the available men about the place, under theirdirection, were emptying the green-houses andlaying the woods under tribute.
The lighting scheme Alice pronounced ineffective.For years no one had given the subject anyattention. At the last moment electricians werebrought out from town to work early and late andlights were installed from which operators inelevated cages could throw sheets of color on thedancers.
When Imogene and Charles got home-and theywere late, arriving only the evening before theparty-Dolly, who met them at the train, drovethem directly to Black Rock, where Alice with herhusband, Fritzie, and Arthur De Castro wasconducting a rehearsal of the electrical effects. Thekisses and embraces of the committee and thearrivals took place under the rays of the new spotlights.
"Now if Robert were here," cried Fritzieimpatiently, "everything would be complete. Noone knows where he is. Suppose he doesn't come?"
"He is in town and will be out to-morrow."Imogene as she made the announcement put herarm around Alice. "Sweetheart, you must be dead."
Alice was sustained by the excitement. "Nothingof the sort. I haven't done anything butsuggest," she said gayly. "Fritzie has done all thework. In the morning we will bring in the appleblossoms and we are through."
But when she had received all the enthusiasmand compliments she went home tired. MacBirneycame to her room to talk, but he had no wordfor the successful decorations and Alice pleadingfatigue went directly to bed.
She woke with the sun streaming through theeast windows. It was late and though still tiredshe rose at once. The morning was superb, and, while dressing, Alice surprised Annie by singingto herself.
Fritzie drove over with her to Black Rock. Alicerunning in to speak to Dolly found her in bed.Dolly kissed her. "You look so fresh, dear." Alicedrew herself up with a laugh. "It's themorning, Dolly."
"By-the-way, Robert is here. He came lateand he and Arthur talked so long he stayed allnight. He is just across the hall in the blue room."
"Then every one is accounted for. I must beoff, Dolly."
"Where are you going?"
"To the woods with Fritzie to get the blossoms."
An old coaching brake had been sent up fromthe stables and Arthur De Castro was waiting forthe two women. "I am going to drive you downthe field before I take my ride," he explained.
"You do need exercise. You look sleepy,Arthur," remarked Fritzie, critically.
"Robert kept me up all night." Arthur turnedto Alice. "You knew he was back?"
"Dolly told me."
"The lazy fellow isn't up yet," said Fritzie.
Arthur corrected her. "He is up and gonehome. But he will be over again this morning."
The horses were fresh and took Arthur's attentionacross the field and the big wagon lurched asthe team danced along. In the woods they foundGrace De Castro with the men who were to work.Arthur's saddle-horse was in waiting. The menbegan loading the brake with elder blossoms, brierroses, and branches from the forest trees. Arthurhad meant to take his groom with him, but foundthere would be nobody to drive the brake back tothe barn.
"No matter, Mr. De Castro," said Alice. "Takehim. I will drive back." Arthur demurred, butAlice insisted. "I would rather drive the teamthan not. I drive our horses all the time."
Arthur and the groom rode away. Fritzieand Grace looked at Alice in astonishment whenthe wagon had been loaded and Alice took thedriver's high seat, pulled her glove gauntlets backtaut and a gardener handed her the reins.
"Aren't you afraid?" cried Grace.
"Not in the least," Alice answered, slipping herhands into the driving loops and putting her footon the wheel-brake.
"Really," declared Grace, "you have quite an air."
Fritzie was apprehensive. "For Heaven's sake, don't let them run away, Allie."
The men at the bridles stood aside, Alice spokeand the team leaped swiftly ahead. She gavethem leeway for a few moments, but kept themunder control and her manner was so confident thatFritzie's fears were allayed before the brake hadcrossed the first hill. As Alice made the turn inthe road and looked laughingly back the two girlswaved approval at her. They saw the brim of herbroad hat rising and falling like a bird's wings asshe nodded to them; then she threw on thewheel-brake and started down the hill.
For a moment the difficulty of holding the pairin check increased and by the time the barn wasin sight the struggle had stirred her blood. Itcolored two little circles in her cheeks and hadlighted fires of animation in her gray eyes. Shesaw the rising entrance to the barn and only tookheed that the doors were wide open. Then shegave all her strength to guiding the rushing horsesup the long incline. Just as their heads shotunder the doorway the off horse shied. The frontwheels of the brake bounced over the thresholdand Alice saw, standing within, Robert Kimberly.
She gave an exclamation of surprise as shethrew on the wheel-brake, pulled with all herstrength on the reins and brought her horses to ahalt. Kimberly with one hand on the casementstood perfectly still until she looked around. Thenhe came forward laughing. "You certainly are acapital whip."
"You frightened me nearly to death!" exclaimedAlice with a long breath. "Where, pray, did youcome from?" she demanded, looking down fromher eminence.
"From almost everywhere. And you?"
"From the woods."
He laid a hand on the foot-board. "Really, Iwonder whether there is anything you can't do."
"I am afraid there is one thing now. I don'tsee how I am going to get down. Aren't thereany men around to take the horses?"
"The horses will stand. Just hook your linesand jump from the wheel."
Alice looked at the distance in dismay. "Thatis easy to say."
"Not hard to do," returned Kimberly. "I'llbreak your flight."
"I'm a wretched jumper."
"Nonsense. You can't tell me you're a wretchedanything after that drive."
"Step away then and I'll jump. Only, I don'tsee just how I am going to stop after I start."
"What do you want to stop for? Come ahead."
She put her foot cautiously on the wheel; it wasa very pretty foot. Then she steadied herself andwith her hand swept little ringlets of hair fromher eyes.
She knew he was waiting to receive her and, meaning to elude him, turned at the last instantand jumped away from where he stood. Kimberly,in spite of her precaution, caught her as herfeet struck the floor, and leaned an instant overher. "Beautifully done!" he exclaimed, anddrawing her suddenly into his arms he kissed her.
She pushed him back with all her strength.He met her consternation with good humor. "Icouldn't help it."
Alice, burning with angry blushes, retreated.He hoped it would end there and ignored theoutraged spirit in her eyes as she took herhandkerchief from her waist.
He tried to laugh again. "Don't be angry." ButAlice put both hands to her face and walkedquickly away.
Kimberly followed her through the opendoor. "Where are you going?" he asked.Her answer came in her quickened step. Herepeated his words without eliciting any response.Then he stepped directly in front of her in thepath. "Stop for one moment. Alice, you can'tgo any farther while you are as angry at me asyou are now."
"I am Alice to no one but my husband," sheexclaimed controlling herself as well as she could."You shall not stop me, you have no right to."
"Where are you going?"
"I am going home."
"Listen; you are Alice to me-now, and forever; remember that."
Her knees trembled as she strove to escape him.She tried to pass through the shrubbery and couldnot. She felt faint and dizzy. The very worldhad changed with a kiss. Everything in lifeseemed upset, every safeguard gone.
He took her arm. "Come back to the path,Alice. We must walk it together."
She paused an instant for breath and made aneffort to speak as she put his hand angrily away."I insist," she cried, "that you do not continueto insult me."
"If you wait for me to insult you, Alice, youwill wait a long time. I should be as likely toinsult my own mother."
"I have done nothing to deserve this," shesobbed, frantic with confusion.
"You deserve more a thousand times than mydevotion ever can bring you. But all it can everbring, from the moment I kissed you, is yours."
Her eyes blazed through her tears. In herhelpless wrath she stamped her foot. "You areshameless. I detest your conduct. If you are going tothe house I will stay here. If you are not, let me go."
He met her denunciation with steadiness."Nothing you can say will anger me."
"You mean you have no respect for me." Shespoke so fast she could scarcely frame the words."Why don't you say so? Are you too cowardly?"
The imputation stung him. He seemed toexplode inwardly. "I have nothing but respect foryou, Alice," he insisted with terrifying energy,"but this thing must be fought out-"
She attempted to speak. His words drownedher. "I want to say nothing that will wound oroffend you. You make it very hard for me tospeak at all-"
"You have no right to speak-"
"But, Alice," he exclaimed, throwing all hisforce into the words, "you don't love that man.That is why I speak. If you did love him, if evenhe loved you, I could be silent."
"I love my husband as a wife should," shecried, struggling vainly to escape his accusation.
"You do not. You cannot!"
They spoke at white heat, she fighting vainly tocontrol her trembling limbs and Kimberly pausingat times to deal better his sledge-hammer blowsat her pitiful strength.
"You do not love that man. If I believed youdid," he spoke with a bitterness she had neverheard before, "I should never want to see anothersun rise. I respect you above all women thatbreathe; but in that I am right, I can't be wrong.I have suppressed and stifled and smothered aslong as I can and it will come out!"
"I will not hear you!"
"Sometime, somewhere, you will hear me.Don't speak!" he exclaimed vehemently. Theveins knotted upon his forehead. "I forgot myselffor a moment. If you knew what it costs me toremember! But, Alice, for me it is you-or nothingin this world. Remember! You or nothing!"
She searched his face for pity. "I am sinkingwith shame. What further, what more humiliationdo you want? We are in plain view of thehouse. I am utterly helpless. Will you not havethe decency to leave me?"
"I wish I could have said this better; I donothing well. If I have hurt you, I am very, verysorry." He strode away toward the garden.
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