Myrtle Reed.

The White Shield



скачать книгу бесплатно

He tried to speak lightly, but his voice trembled with earnestness: "Dearest, this entire affair has been coloured, and suggested by, and mixed up with dogs. I think now there will be an interval of peace for at least ten minutes, and I am asking you to marry me."

Rex raised his voice in awful protest, and Emperor replied angrily to the challenge, as he raged back and forth in the vestibule, but Robert heard Katherine's tremulous "Yes" with a throb of joy which even the consciousness of warring elements outside could not lessen. The little figure against his breast shook with something very like a giggle, and Katherine's eyes shining with merriment met his with the question: "What on earth shall we do with the dogs?"

Robert laughed and drew her closer: "It's strictly international, isn't it? Canada and the United States quarrel – "

"And Ireland arbitrates!" said Katherine.

Three months later, in the drawing-room on Jefferson Avenue, to the accompaniment of flowers, lights, and soft music, the treaty was declared permanent. There was a tiny dark coloured footprint on the end of Katherine's train, which no one appeared to notice, and a white silk handkerchief carefully arranged hid from public view a slightly larger spot on the shining linen of the bridegroom, where Emperor had registered his enthusiastic approval of his master's apparel.

But the rest of the committee, in pale green gowns, were bridesmaids, while Emperor and Rex, resplendent in new collars, and having temporarily adjusted their difference as long as they were under guard, had seats of honour among the guests.

A Child of Silence

At the end of the street stood the little white house which Jack Ward was pleased to call his own. Five years he had lived there, he and Dorothy. How happy they had been! But things seemed to have gone wrong some way, since – since the baby died in the spring. A sob came into Jack's throat, for the little face had haunted him all day.

Never a sound had the baby lips uttered, and the loudest noises had not disturbed his rest. It had seemed almost too much to bear, but they had loved him more, if that were possible, because he was not as other children were. Jack had never been reconciled but Dorothy found a world of consolation in the closing paragraph of a magazine article on the subject:

"And yet we cannot believe these Children of Silence to be unhappy. Mrs. Browning says that 'closed eyes see more truly than ever open do,' and may there not be another world of music for those to whom our own is soundless? In a certain sense they are utterly beyond the pain that life always brings, for never can they hear the cruel words beside which physical hurts sink into utter insignificance. So pity them not, but believe that He knoweth best, and that what seems wrong and bitter is often His truest kindness to His children."

Dorothy read it over and over until she knew it by heart. There was a certain comfort in the thought that he need not suffer – that he need never find what a world of bitterness lies in that one little word – life.

And when the hard day came she tried to be thankful, for she knew that he was safer still – tried to see the kindness that had taken him back into the Unknown Silence of which he was the Child.

Jack went up the steps this mild winter evening, whistling softly to himself, and opened the door with his latch-key.

"Where are you, girlie?"

"Up stairs, dear. I'll be down in a minute," and even as she spoke Dorothy came into the room.

In spite of her black gown and the hollows under her eyes, she was a pretty woman. She knew it, and Jack did too. That is he had known, but he had forgotten.

"Here's the evening paper." He tossed it into her lap as she sat down by the window.

"Thank you." She wondered vaguely why Jack did not kiss her as he used to, and then dismissed the thought. She was growing accustomed to that sort of thing.

"How nice of you to come by the early train! I didn't expect you until later."

"There wasn't much going on in town, so I left the office early. Any mail? No? Guess I'll take Jip out for a stroll." The fox-terrier at his feet wagged his tail approvingly. "Want to go, Jip?"

Jip answered decidedly in the affirmative.

"All right, come on," and Dorothy watched the two go down the street with an undefined feeling of pain.

She lit the prettily shaded lamp and tried to read the paper, but the political news, elopements, murders, and suicides lacked interest. She wondered what had come between her and Jack. Something had, there was no question about that; but – well, it would come straight sometime. Perhaps she was morbid and unjust. She couldn't ask him what was the matter without making him angry and she had tried so hard to make him happy.

Jip announced his arrival at the front door with a series of sharp barks and an unmistakable scratch. She opened it as Jack sauntered slowly up the walk and passed her with the remark:

"Dinner ready? I'm as hungry as a bear."

Into the cozy dining-room they went, Jip first, then Jack, then Dorothy. The daintily served meal satisfied the inner man, and he did not notice that she ate but little. She honestly tried to be entertaining, and thought she succeeded fairly well. After dinner he retired into the depths of the evening paper, and Dorothy stitched away at her embroidery.

Suddenly Jack looked at his watch. "Well, it's half past seven, and I've got to go over to Mrs. Brown's and practise a duet with her for to-morrow."

Dorothy trembled, but only said: "Oh, yes, the duet. What is it this time?"

"'Calvary,' I guess, that seems to take the multitude better than anything we sing. No, Jip, not this time. Good-bye, I won't be gone long."

The door slammed, and Dorothy was alone. She put away her embroidery and walked the floor restlessly. Mrs. Brown was a pretty widow, always well dressed, and she sang divinely. Dorothy could not sing a note though she played fairly well, and Jack got into a habit of taking Mrs. Brown new music and going over to sing it with her. An obliging neighbour had called that afternoon and remarked maliciously that Mr. Ward and Mrs. Brown seemed to be very good friends. Dorothy smiled with white lips, and tried to say pleasantly, "Yes, Mrs. Brown is very charming, don't you think so? I am sure that if I were a man I should fall in love with her."

The neighbour rose to go and by way of a parting shot replied: "That seems to be Mr. Ward's idea. Lovely day, isn't it? Come over when you can."

Dorothy was too stunned to reply. She thought seriously of telling Jack, but wisely decided not to. These suburban towns were always gossipy. Jack would think she did not trust him. And now he was at Mrs. Brown's again!

The pain was almost blinding. She went to the window and looked out. The rising moon shone fitfully upon the white signs of sorrow in the little churchyard far to the left.

She threw a shawl over her head and went out. In feverish haste she walked over to the little "God's Acre" where the Child of Silence was buried.

She found the spot and sat down. A thought of Mrs. Browning's ran through her mind:

 
"Thank God, bless God, all ye who suffer not
More grief than ye can weep for – "
 

Then someway the tears came, a blessed rush of relief.

"Oh, baby dear," she sobbed, pressing her lips to the cold turf above him, "I wish I were down there beside you, as still and as dreamless as you. You don't know what it means – you never would have known. I'd rather be a stone than a woman with a heart. Do you think that if I could buy death I wouldn't take it and come down there beside you? It hurt me to lose you, but it wasn't the worst. You would have loved me. Oh, my Child of Silence! Come back, come back!"

How long she stayed there she never knew, but the heart pain grew easier after a while. She pressed her lips to the turf again. "Good night, baby dear, good night. I'll come again. You haven't lost your mother even if she has lost you!"

Fred Bennett passed by the unfrequented spot, returning from an errand to that part of town, and he heard the last words. He drew back into the shadow. The slight black figure appeared on the sidewalk a few feet ahead of him and puzzled him not a little. He followed cautiously and finally decided to overtake her. As she heard his step behind her she looked around timidly.

"Mrs. Ward!"

His tone betrayed surprise, and he saw that her eyes were wet and her white, drawn face was tear-stained. She shuddered. A new trouble faced her. How long had he been following her?

He saw her distress and told his lie bravely. "I just came around the corner here."

Her relieved look was worth the sacrifice of his conscientious scruples, he said to himself afterward.

"I may walk home with you, may I not?"

"Certainly."

She took his offered arm and tried to chat pleasantly with her old friend. Soon they reached the gate. She dropped his arm and said good night unsteadily. Bennett could bear it no longer and he took both of her hands in his own.

"Mrs. Ward, you are in trouble. Tell me, perhaps I can help you." She was silent. "Dorothy, you will let me call you so, will you not? You know how much I cared for you in a boy's impulsive fashion, in the old days when we were at school; you know that I am your friend now – as true a friend as a man can be to a woman. Tell me, Dorothy, and let me help you."

There was a rustle of silk on the pavement and her caller of the afternoon swept by without speaking. Already Dorothy knew the story which would be put in circulation on the morrow. Bennett's clasp tightened on her cold fingers. "Tell me, Dorothy, and let me help you!" he said again.

The impulse to tell him grew stronger, and she controlled it with difficulty. "It is nothing, Mr. Bennett, I – I have a headache."

"I see, and you came out for a breath of fresh air. Pardon me. I am sure you will be better in the morning. These cool nights are so bracing. Good night, and God bless you – Dorothy."

Meanwhile Bennett was on his way to Mrs. Brown's cottage. His mind was made up, and he would speak to Jack. He had heard a great deal of idle gossip, and it would probably cost him Jack's friendship, but he would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that he had tried to do something for Dorothy. He rang the bell and Mrs. Brown herself answered it.

"Good evening, Mrs. Brown. No, thank you, I won't come in. Just ask Jack if I may see him a minute on a matter of business."

Ward, hearing his friend's voice, was already at the door.

"I'll be with you in a minute, Fred," he said. "Good night, Mrs. Brown; I am sure we shall get on famously with the duet." And the two men went slowly down the street.

They walked on in silence until Jack said: "Well, Bennett, what is it? You don't call a fellow out like this unless it is something serious."

"It is serious, Jack; it's Dor – it's Mrs. Ward."

"Dorothy? I confess I am as much in the dark as ever."

"It's this way, Jack, she is in trouble."

Ward was silent.

"Jack, you know I'm a friend of yours; I have been ever since I've known you. If you don't take what I am going to say as I mean, you are not the man I think you are."

"Go on, Fred, I understand you. I was only thinking."

"Perhaps you don't know it, but the town is agog with what it is pleased to term your infatuation for Mrs. Brown." Jack smothered a profane exclamation, and Bennett continued. "Dorothy is eating her heart out over the baby. She was in the cemetery to-night sobbing over his grave and talking to him like a mad woman. I came up the back street, and after a little I overtook her and walked home with her. That's how I happen to know. And don't think for a moment that she hasn't heard the gossip. She has, only she is too proud to speak of it. And Jack, old man, I don't believe you've neglected her intentionally, but begin again and show her how much you care for her. Good night."

Bennett left him abruptly, for the old love for Dorothy was strong to-night; not the fitful flaming passion of boyhood, but the deeper, tenderer love of his whole life.

Jack was strangely affected. Dear little Dorothy! He had neglected her. "I don't deserve her," he said to himself, "but I will."

He passed a florist's shop, and a tender thought struck him. He would buy Dorothy some roses. He went in and ordered a box of American Beauties. A stiff silk rustled beside him and he lifted his hat courteously.

"Going home, Mr. Ward? It's early, isn't it?" "But," with scarcely perceptible emphasis, "it's – none – too soon!" Then as her eager eye caught a glimpse of the roses, "Ah, but you men are sly! For Mrs. Brown?"

Jack took his package and responded icily, "No, for Mrs. Ward!" "Cat!" he muttered under his breath as he went out. And that little word in the mouth of a man means a great deal.

He entered the house, and was not surprised to find that Dorothy had retired. She never waited for him now. He took the roses from the box and went up-stairs.

"Hello, Dorothy," as the pale face rose from the pillow in surprise. "I've brought you some roses!" Dorothy actually blushed. Jack hadn't brought her a rose for three years; not since the day the baby was born. He put them in water and came and sat down beside her.

"Dear little girl, your head aches, doesn't it?" He drew her up beside him and put his cool fingers on the throbbing temples. Her heart beat wildly and happy tears filled her eyes as Jack bent down and kissed her tenderly. "My sweetheart! I'm so sorry for the pain."

It was the old lover-like tone and Dorothy looked up.

"Jack," she said, "you do love me, don't you?"

His arms tightened about her. "My darling, I love you better than anything in the world. You are the dearest little woman I ever saw. It isn't much of a heart, dear, but you've got it all. Crying? Why, what is it, sweetheart?"

"The baby," she answered brokenly, and his eyes overflowed too.

"Dorothy, dearest, you know that was best. He wasn't like – " Jack couldn't say the hard words, but Dorothy understood and drew his face down to hers again.

Then she closed her eyes, and Jack held her until she slept. The dawn found his arms around her again, and when the early church bells awoke her from a happy dream she found the reality sweet and beautiful, and the heartache a thing of the past.

The Dweller in Bohemia

The single lamp in "the den" shone in a distant corner with a subdued rosy glow; but there was no need of light other than that which came from the pine knots blazing in the generous fireplace.

On the rug, crouched before the cheerful flame, was a woman, with her elbow on her knee and her chin in the palm of her hand.

There were puzzled little lines in her forehead, and the corners of her mouth drooped a little. Miss Archer was tired, and the firelight, ever kind to those who least need its grace, softened her face into that of a wistful child.

A tap at the door intruded itself into her reverie. "Come," she called. There was a brief silence, then an apologetic masculine cough.

Helen turned suddenly. "Oh, it's you," she cried. "I thought it was the janitor!"

"Sorry you're disappointed," returned Hilliard jovially. "Sit down on the rug again, please, – you've no idea how comfortable you looked, – and I'll join you presently." He was drawing numerous small parcels from the capacious pockets of his coat and placing them upon a convenient chair.

"If one might enquire – " began Helen.

"Certainly, ma'am. There's oysters and crackers and parsley and roquefort, and a few other things I thought we might need. I know you've got curry-powder and celery-salt, and if her gracious ladyship will give me a pitcher, I'll go on a still hunt for cream."

"You've come to supper, then, I take it," said Helen.

"Yes'm. Once in a while, in a newspaper office, some fellow is allowed a few minutes off the paper. Don't know why, I'm sure, but it has now happened to me. I naturally thought of you, and the chafing dish, and the curried oysters you have been known to cook, and – "

Helen laughed merrily. "Your heart's in the old place, isn't it – at the end of your esophagus?"

"That's what it is. My heart moves up into my throat at the mere sight of you." The colour flamed into her cheeks. "Now will you be good?" he continued enquiringly. "Kindly procure for me that pitcher I spoke of."

He whistled happily as he clattered down the uncarpeted stairs, and Helen smiled to herself. "Bohemia has its consolations as well as its trials," she thought. "This would be impossible anywhere else."

After the last scrap of the feast had been finished and the dishes cleared away, Frank glanced at his watch. "I have just an hour and a half," he said, "and I have a great deal to say in it." He placed her in an easy chair before the fire and settled himself on a cushion at her feet, where he could look up into her face.

"'The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things,'" quoted Helen lightly.

"Don't be flippant, please."

"Very well, then," she replied, readily adjusting herself to his mood, "what's the trouble?"

"You know," he said in a different tone, "the same old one. Have you nothing to say to me, Helen?"

Her face hardened, ever so slightly, but he saw it and it pained him. "There's no use going over it again," she returned, "but if you insist, I will make my position clear once for all."

"Go on," he answered grimly.

"I'm not a child any longer," Helen began, "I'm a woman, and I want to make the most of my life – to develop every nerve and faculty to its highest and best use. I have no illusions but I have my ideals, and I want to keep them. I want to write – you never can understand how much I want to do it – and I have had a tiny bit of success already. I want to work out my own problems and live my own life, and you want me to marry you and help you live yours. It's no use, Frank," she ended, not unkindly, "I can't do it."

"See here, my little comrade," he returned, "you must think I'm a selfish beast. I'm not asking you to give up your work nor your highest and best development. Isn't there room in your life for love and work too?"

"Love and I parted company long ago," she answered.

"Don't you ever feel the need of it?"

She threw up her head proudly. "No, my work is all-sufficient. There is no joy like creation; no intoxication like success."

"But if you should fail?"

"I shall not fail," she replied confidently. "When you dedicate your whole life to a thing, you simply must have it. The only reason for a failure is that the desire to succeed is not strong enough. I ask no favours – nothing but a fair field. I'm willing to work, and work hard for everything I get, as long as I have the health and courage to work at all."

He looked at her a long time before he spoke again. The firelight lingered upon the soft curves of her throat with a caressing tenderness. Her eyes, deep, dark, and splendid, were shining with unwonted resolution, and her mouth, though set in determined lines, had a womanly sweetness of its own. Around her face, like a halo, gleamed the burnished glory of her hair.

For three long years he had loved her. Helen, with her eyes on things higher than love and happiness, had persistently eluded his wooing. His earnest devotion touched her not a little, but she felt her instinctive sympathy for him to be womanish weakness.

"This is final?" he asked, rising and standing before her.

She rose also. "Yes, please believe me – it must be final; there is no other way. I don't want lovers – I want friends."

"You want me, then, to change my love to friendship?"

"Yes."

"Never to tell you again that I love you?"

"No, never again."

"Very well, we are to be comrades, then?"

She gave him her hand. "Yes, working as best we may, each with the understanding and approval of the other; comrades in Bohemia."

Some trick of her voice, some movement of her hand – those trifles so potent with a man in love – beat down his contending reason. With a catch in his breath, he crushed her roughly to him, kissed her passionately on the mouth, then suddenly released her.

"Women like you don't know what you do," he said harshly. "You hold a man captive with your charm, become so vitally necessary to him that you are nothing less than life, enmesh, ensnare him at every opportunity, then offer him the cold comfort of your friendship!"

He was silent for a breathless instant; then in some measure, his self-control came back. "Pardon me," he said gently, bending over her hand. "I have startled you. It shall not occur again. Good night and good luck – my comrade in Bohemia!"

Helen stood where he had left her until the street door closed and the echo of his footsteps died away. The fire was a smouldering heap of ashes, and the room seemed deathly still. Her cheeks were hot as with a fever, and she trembled like one afraid. It was the first time he had crossed the conventional boundary, and he had said it would be the last, but Love's steel had struck flame from the flint of her maiden soul.

"I wish," she said to herself as she put the room in order, "that I lived on some planet where life wasn't quite so serious."



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15