The White Shield
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The war correspondent went away quietly. In the moonlight he could see the boyish face of the Other Man, radiant with an all-believing, all-forgiving love.
"Yes," said the Other Man again, after an interval, and not realising that he was alone, "that was it. My little girl was lonesome without me."
The Roses and the Song
There had been a lover's quarrel and she had given him back his ring. He thrust it into his pocket and said, unconcernedly, that there were other girls who would be glad to wear it.
Her face flushed, whether in anger or pain he did not know, but she made no reply. And he left her exulting in the thought that the old love was dead.
As the days went by, he began to miss her. First, when his chum died in a far-off country, with no friend near. He remembered with a pang how sweetly comforting she had always been, never asking questions, but soothing his irritation and trouble with her gentle womanly sympathy.
He knew just what she would do if he could tell her that Tom was dead. She would put her soft cheek against his own rough one, and say: "I am so sorry dear. I'm not much, I know, but you've got me, and nothing, not even death can change that."
"Not even death" – yes, it was quite true. Death changes nothing. – It is only life that separates utterly.
He began to miss the afternoon walks, the lingering in book store and art galleries, and the quiet evenings at home over the blazing fire, when he sat with his arm around her and told her how he had spent the time since they last met. Every thought was in some way of her, and the emptiness of his heart without her seemed strange in connection with the fact that the old love was dead.
He saw by a morning paper that there was to be a concert for the benefit of some charitable institution, and on the program, printed beneath the announcement, was her name. He smiled grimly. How often he had gone with her when she sang in public! He remembered every little detail of every evening. He always waited behind the scenes, because she said she could sing better when he was near her. And whatever the critics might say, she was sure of his praise.
It was on the way home from one of these affairs that he had first told her that he loved her. Through the rose-leaf rain that fell from her hair and bosom at his touch he had kissed her for the first time, and the thrill of her sweet lips was with him still. How short the ride had been that night and why was the coachman in such an unreasonable hurry to get home?
He made up his mind that he would not go to the concert that night, but somehow, he bought a ticket and was there before the doors opened. So he went out to walk around a little. People who went to concerts early were his especial detestation.
In a florist's window he saw some unusually beautiful roses. He had always sent her roses before, to match her gown, and it seemed queer not to buy them for her now.
Perhaps he really ought to send her some to show her that he cherished no resentment.Anyone could send her flowers over the footlights. The other men that she knew would undoubtedly remember her, and he didn't want to seem unfriendly.
So he went in. "Four dozen La France roses," he said, and the clerk speedily made the selection. He took a card out of his pocket, and chewed the end of his pencil meditatively.
It was strange that he should have selected that particular kind, he thought. That other night, after he had gone home, he had found a solitary pink petal clinging to his scarf-pin. He remembered with a flush of tenderness that it had come from one of the roses – his roses – on her breast. He had kissed it passionately and hidden it in a book – a little book which she had given him.
With memory came heartache, his empty life and her wounded love. The words shaped themselves under his pencil:
"You know what the roses mean. Will you wear one when you sing the second time? Forgive me and love me again – my sweetheart."
He tied the card himself into the centre of the bunch, so it was half hidden by the flowers. He gave them to the usher with a queer tremolo note in his voice. "After her first number, understand?"
There was a piano solo, and then she appeared. What she sang he did not know, but her deep contralto, holding heaven in its tones, he both knew and understood. She did not sing as well as usual. Her voice lacked warmth and sincerity and her intonation was faulty. The applause was loud but not spontaneous although many of her friends were there. His were the only flowers she received.
When she came out the second time, he looked at her anxiously, but there was never a sign of a rose. He sank down in his chair with a sigh and covered his face with his hand.
This time she sang as only she could sing. Oh, that glorious contralto! Suggestions of twilight and dawn, of suffering and joy, of love and its renunciation.
There was no mistaking her success and the great house rang with plaudits from basement to roof. He, only, was silent; praying in mute agony for a sign.
She willingly responded to the encore and a hush fell upon the audience with the first notes of Tosti's "Good-Bye."
Oh, why should she sing that? He writhed as if in bodily pain, but the beautiful voice went on and on.
How cruel she seemed! Stately, imperious, yet womanly, she held her listeners spellbound, but every word cut into his heart like a knife.
The tears came and his lips grew white. Then some way into the cruel magnificence of her voice came a hint of pity as she sang:
There was a hush, then she began again:
All the love in her soul surged into her song; the joy of happy love; the agony of despairing love; the pleading cry of doubting love; the dull suffering of hopeless love; and then her whole strength was merged into a passionate prayer for the lost love, as she sang the last words:
She bowed her acknowledgments again and again, and when the clamour was over, he hastened into the little room behind the stage where she was putting on her wraps. She was alone but her carriage was waiting.
As he entered, she started in surprise, then held out her hand.
"Dear," he said, "if this is the end, won't you let me kiss you once for the sake of our old happiness? We were so much to each other – you and I. Even if you wouldn't wear the rose, won't you let me hold you just a minute as I used to do?"
"Wear the rose," she repeated, "what do you mean?"
"Didn't you see my card?"
"No," she answered, "I couldn't look at them – they are – La – France – you know – and – "
She reached out trembling fingers and found the card. She read the tender message twice – the little message which meant so much, then looked up into his face.
"If I could," she whispered, "I'd pin them all on."
Someway she slipped into her rightful place again, and very little was said as they rolled home. But when he lit the gas in his own room he saw something queer in the mirror, and found, clinging to his scarf-pin, the petal of a La France rose.
A Laggard in Love
"My dear," said Edith judiciously, "I think you're doing wrong."
Marian dabbed her eyes with a very wet handkerchief and said nothing. Edith adjusted the folds of her morning gown and assumed a more comfortable position on the couch.
"They all have to be managed," she went on, "and you'll find that Mr. Thomas Drayton is no exception. I'll venture that when he makes his visits, which are like those of angels, 'few and far between' you tell him how lonesome you've been without him, and how you've thought of him every minute since the last time, and perhaps even cry a little bit! Am I right?"
Marian nodded. "If it wasn't for that hateful Perkins girl, I wouldn't care so much. She's neither bright nor pretty, and I'm sure I don't see what Tom sees in her. I think it's more her fault than his."
"The Perkins girl is entirely blameless, Miss Reynolds, though she certainly is unpleasant. It is Tom's fault."
The afflicted Miss Reynolds wiped her eyes again. "Perhaps it's mine. If I were quite what I ought to be, Tom wouldn't seek other society, I'm sure."
Mrs. Bently sat up straight. "Marian Reynolds," she demanded, "have you ever said anything like that to Tom?"
"Something like that," Marian admitted. "What should I have done?"
"Thrown a book at him," responded Mrs. Bently energetically. Then she leaned back among the pillows, and twisted the corners of her handkerchief.
"Don't be horrid, Edith, but tell me what to do," pleaded Marian.
Mrs. Bently looked straight out of the window. "I've been married nearly ten years," she said meditatively, "and I point with pardonable pride to my husband. There hasn't been any of the 'other woman business' since the first days of our engagement. He never forgets the little words of endearment, he brings me flowers, and books, and he's quite as polite to me as he is to other women."
"I know," replied Marian. "I've seen him break away from a crowd in the middle of a sentence to put your rubbers on for you."
"All that," resumed Edith, "is the result of careful training. And what Tom needs is heroic treatment. If you will promise to do exactly as I say, you will have his entire devotion inside of a month."
"I promise," responded Marian hopefully.
"First, then, take off your engagement ring."
Marian's pretty brown head drooped lower and lower, and a brighter diamond fell into her lap. She felt again the passionate tenderness in his voice when he told her how much he loved her, and she remembered how he had kissed each finger-tip separately, then the diamond, just because it was hers.
She looked at her friend with eyes full of tears. "Edith, I can't."
"Take it off."
Marian obeyed, very slowly, then threw herself at the side of the couch sobbing. "Edith, Edith," she cried, "don't be so cross to me! I am so dreadfully unhappy!"
"Marian, dearest, I'm not cross, but I want you to be a sensible girl. The happiness of your whole life is at stake, and I want you to be brave – it is now or never with Mr. Thomas Drayton. If you let him torture you now for his own amusement, he will do it all his life!"
"I'll try, Edith, but you don't know how it hurts."
"Yes, I do know, dear; I've been through it myself. Now listen. First, no more tears or reproaches. Secondly, don't allude to his absence, nor to the Perkins girl. Thirdly, you must find some one else at once."
"That's as bad as what he is doing, isn't it?"
"Similia similibus curantur," laughed Edith. "Joe's friend, Jackson, is coming to the city for a month or so, and he'll do nicely. He's awfully handsome, and a perfectly outrageous flirt. He always singles out one girl, however, and devotes himself to her, so we won't have any trouble on that score. People who don't know Jackson, think that he's in deadly earnest, but I don't believe he ever had a serious thought in his life."
"I think I have seen him," said Marian. "Wasn't he at the Charity Ball with you and Mr. Bently last year?"
"Yes, he was there, but only for a few minutes. Now, let's see – to-day is Thursday. Have you seen Tom this week?"
Marian hesitated. "N-no, that is, not since Sunday. But I think he will come this afternoon."
"Very well, my dear, you have an engagement for the rest of the day with me. Run home and put on your prettiest gown. We'll go to the Art Gallery and call on Mrs. Kean later. We both owe her a call, and I'll look for you at two."
Promptly at two o'clock Marian appeared with all traces of tears smoothed away. "You'll do," said Edith. "I believe you're a thoroughbred after all."
At the Art Gallery they met what Mrs. Bently termed "the insufferable Perkins" clad in four different colours and looking for all the world like a poster. She was extremely pleasant, and insisted upon showing them a picture which was "one of Mr. Drayton's favourites."
Miss Reynolds adjusted her lorgnette critically. "Yes, I think this is about the only picture in this exhibit which Tom and I both like. I'm so glad that you approve of our taste, Miss Perkins," and Marian smiled sweetly.
Edith squeezed her arm rapturously as they moved away. "I'm proud of you. Those pictures were hung only day before yesterday. Why, there's Joe."
Mr. Bently greeted them cordially. "Jackson came this morning, Edith, and I have asked him to dine with us Monday evening."
"That will be charming. Marian is coming to visit us over Sunday and I think they will like each other."
"I hope so," was Mr. Bently's rejoinder. "It's really good of you to come, Miss Reynolds, for I very seldom see you, and Jackson is a capital fellow."
"Come, Marian," said Edith, "you know we were going to make a call."
"Always going somewhere, aren't you, sweetheart?" and Mr. Bently smiled lovingly at his pretty wife.
"Never far away from you, dear," she answered and waved her hand to him as the crowd swept them apart.
"You're going to stay all night with me, you know," Edith said. "We'll stop at your house on our way back, and leave word with your mother – incidentally we can learn if any one has called."
It was almost dark when they reached Marian's home, and Edith waited in the hall, while she went in search of her mother. As she came down-stairs, Mrs. Bently held up a small white card, triumphantly. Marian's face flushed as she saw the name.
"Mr. Thomas E. Drayton."
"It's all right," said her friend, "just wait and see."
Friday morning, the servant who admitted Marian, said that Mr. Drayton had called the previous evening and left some flowers which Miss Reynolds would find in the library.
A great bunch of American Beauties stood on the table, and almost overpowered her with their fragrance.
"Dear, dear Tom! He does love me," she thought. "I'll write him a note."
She sat down to her desk without removing her hat. "Perhaps I've been mistaken all along." The words shaped themselves under her pen: "My Dearest." Then she stopped and surveyed it critically. "Not in the present incarnation of Miss Reynolds." She tore the sheet straight across, and dropped it into the waste basket. Taking another, she wrote:
Over his coffee the next morning Tom studied the little note. "I wonder what's the matter. 'My Dear Tom'! 'Marian Reynolds' and not a bit of love in it. It isn't the least bit like her. I must go and see her this afternoon. No, I'll be hanged if I will, she had no business to be out," and he chewed a toothpick savagely. "I'll ask her to go to the theatre."
After much cogitation, he evolved a note which struck him as being a marvel of diplomacy.
Marian's reply was equally concise:
Tom grew decidedly uncomfortable. What the mischief was the matter with the girl! One thing was certain, next time he called, it would be at her invitation. But the following afternoon found him again at the house.
"Miss Reynolds is out, sir," said the servant as he opened the door, in response to his ring.
"I know," he responded impatiently; "I want to return a book I borrowed the other day."
"Certainly, sir," and the servant ushered him into the library.
He put the book in its place, and his glance, travelling downward met the waste basket. Marian's distinctive penmanship stared him in the face. "My Dearest!"
Mr. Thomas Drayton was an honourable gentleman, but he wanted to examine that waste-paper basket. He rushed out of the library, lest he should yield to the temptation, and said to the servant in the hall: "Say nothing of my having been here to-day, Jones."
"Certainly not, sir."
"The book is a joke on Miss Reynolds," he said putting a silver half dollar in Jones's ready palm.
"All right, sir, I see." And Tom went out.
Before he reached the avenue, he was mentally kicking himself for explaining to a servant. He had of course noticed the roses on the table, and he was very sure they had not been in Marian's room.
Once she had told him, how she had slept with one of the roses next her heart, and a thorn had pricked the flesh, making a red spot on a white petal. She showed him the rose with its tiny blood stain. He had kissed the flower and put it in a little memorandum book with a gold clasp. And he had told Marian, over and over again, what a horrid rose it was – to hurt his sweetheart. He smiled grimly at his own previous foolishness, and felt sure that none of the American Beauties would rest next to Marian's heart that night.
Miss Reynolds and Mrs. Bently sat in the latter's boudoir. Edith nodded sagely over Tom's note, and Marian was curled up in a forlorn heap on the couch.
"How does he usually begin his notes to you?"
"'My Dearest Girl,' or 'Dear Sweetheart,'" answered Marian.
"H'm! Well, my dear, you may depend upon it, he is 'beginning to take notice.'"
Sunday, Tom spent morosely at his club, and was so disagreeable that his friends were very willing to give him a wide berth. Marian was neither cheerful nor happy, and wept copiously in private, fancying Tom worshipping at the shrine of Miss Perkins.
Monday evening she and Edith dressed together. Marian had a new gown of that peculiar shade of blue which seems to be especially made for brown eyes and hair, and looked, as her friend told her, "simply stunning."
"Joe has a box at the theatre to-night. Isn't he lovely?"
Marian assented, but inwardly hoped that Tom would not hear of her being there.
Mr. Sterling Jackson was a very pleasant fellow, with an inexhaustible fund of humour. He devoted himself to Marian and looked unutterable things whenever opportunity offered. Handsome, he certainly was, and she was secretly flattered by his evident adoration. Tom didn't matter quite so much now.
At the theatre Marian sat in the front of an upper box beside Mrs. Bently. The devoted Jackson leaned forward and talked to her in subdued tones. After the first act, Edith whispered to her:
"Don't look, nor turn pale, nor do anything rash, but Mr. Thomas Drayton is down in the parquet with Miss Matilda Perkins." Marian turned white and grasped the rail of the box. "Don't faint till I tell you. He hasn't taken his eyes off you since he first saw you, and I don't believe he has seen the stage at all. Perkins is simply green with rage, and I wish you could see her hat. It's a dream in pink and yellow – an equine dream."
Marian's colour returned, and conscious of looking her best, she flirted outrageously with the ever willing Jackson, though she confided to Edith at the end of the second act, that she was "perfectly wretched."
"Nobody suspects it," returned Mrs. Bently, "least of all Tom. He's chewing Perkins's fan, and she's trying to draw him out."
For the remainder of the week Mr. Drayton studiously avoided the Reynolds mansion. Marian had been seen on the Boulevard with the odious Jackson, and Miss Perkins had suddenly lost her charm. Marian was always at home on Tuesdays. Next week he would drop in, in the afternoon, and see how the land lay.
Mrs. Bently had heard, through her husband, that Drayton had gone out of the city, and the intelligence was promptly conveyed to Marian.
The solitaire lay in a corner of Marian's chatelaine bag. She meditated the propriety of sending it back, but Edith would not hear of it. Her heart ached constantly for Tom, and she flirted feverishly with Jackson. "I am at home Tuesdays," she said one evening when he left her. "Come in for a little while and I will give you a cup of tea."
He came early and found her alone. They chatted for a few minutes, and then Mr. Thomas Drayton was announced. The two men were civil to each other, but Marian felt their mutual irritation, and was relieved when Jackson rose to take his departure. He crossed the room to Tom and shook hands. "I am very glad to have met you, Mr. Drayton. I am sure we shall meet often, if you find Miss Reynolds as charming as I do." He bowed politely to Marian and went out.
"The insufferable cad!" thought Tom. He shivered, and Marian hastened to the tea table.
"It's awfully cold outside," she said, "and these rooms are not any too warm. I'll make you some tea. You take two lumps of sugar, don't you?"
Tom said nothing. Marian's pretty hands hovered over the teacups, and he noticed that the left one was ringless.
"Don't you wear your solitaire any more, Marian?" His voice was strange and she was half afraid.
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