The night was so oppressive, continuing such an unusually sultry period for the season, that Sidsall, ordinarily impervious to the effects of weather, was unable to sleep. Although the door between her room and her parents' was shut, she heard her father—his step, at once quick and firm, was easily recognizable moving about beyond. Her restlessness increased and she got up, crossing the floor to the window open on the garden, where she knelt, the thick plait of her hair across her cheek and shoulder, with her arms propped on the ledge. The depths of sky were hidden in a darkness like night made visible; and, in place of moving air, there were slow waves of perfume, now from the lilacs and now from the opening hedge of June roses.
Her brain was filled by a multitude of minor images and speculations, but fixed at their back was the presence of Roger Brevard. She approved of him absolutely. He had exactly the formal manner that gave her a pleasant sense of delicate importance, and his clothes were beautiful, a sprig of rose geranium in a buttonhole and his gloves and boots immaculate. She liked rather slight graceful men, she thought, with the quiet voices of a polite ancestry. Naturally Olive Wibird preferred less restrained companions, although Heaven knew that Olive appeared to make all kinds welcome. Olive's opinion of Roger Brevard would have been very different if he had asked her to dance.
Sidsall recalled the quadrille he had led her through at Lacy's party; he had been a perfect partner, at once light and firm. He had been a habitual caller at Java Head before that occasion, and had come in the same manner since. That is, casually viewed, his visits seemed the same; but in reality there were some small yet significant differences. They were all held in his attitude of the afternoon when he had stayed talking exclusively to her on the steps.
She couldn't say just what the change was; when she attempted to examine it her thoughts became confused and turned to a hundred absurd considerations, such as—at present—the loveliness of the night. The scents of the flowers were overwhelming. He got on, too, better than almost anyone else with her Uncle Gerrit's Manchu wife. She had watched them together until it had dawned on her that the two had some important qualities in common—they both appeared to stand a little aside from the world, as if they were against the wall at a cotillion. She thought this in spite of the fact that it was precisely what Roger Brevard never did; it was true in the mysterious way of so much now that came from ideas over which she had no control.
The subject of Uncle Gerrit's wife—she had not yet been told or decided for herself what to call her—was inexhaustibly enthralling. But, before she was again fairly launched in it, she paused to wonder at the presence of the dreadful Dunsack man on their lawn. His hollow yellow cheeks and staring brown eyes which somehow made her think of pain, his restless hands and speech, all repelled her violently. Taou—Taou Yuen hadn't liked him either: when, after the longest time, he had gone, she replied to a short comment from her, Sidsall's, father:
"Rotten wood cannot be carved."
Some one else had mentioned opium. She had intended to ask more particularly about this, but it slipped from her mind. She remembered that her grandfather made one of his familiar exclamations peppered with an appalling word. He was really very embarrassing, and she was glad that Roger Brevard had left. It was a bad example for Laurel, too, who copied him, and only that morning said "My God" to Miss Gomes. Her mind swung back to the consideration of the Manchu: The latter was the fact upon which Camilla was so insistent, that in this case a Manchu was a noble, almost a princess. Camilla suffered dreadfully from the endless questions put to her outside their house about Uncle Gerrit's wife. She had more than once wept at the public blot laid on them. Laurel was frankly inquisitive and Janet as puzzling as usual.
The clothes of course were enchanting, the richness of the materials and hand embroidery marvellous; her jewelry was never ending. It didn't seem quite like clothing, in the sense of her own tarlatan and crinoline, her waist which Hodie wouldn't properly lace and tulle draping; there was a certain resemblance to the dressing in Van Amburgh's circus; but—in spite of Camilla's private laments—every inch of it was distinguished. The layers of paint upset them, but Uncle Gerrit had explained, a little impatiently, that it was a Manchu custom, adding that the world couldn't be all measured and judged by Salem.
Sidsall liked her rather than not, she decided; and determined to make an effort to know her better. She wanted specially to discover the nature of the bond that held one to the other, and explore, in safety, the depths of love. She could not help feeling that her uncle's affair, extraordinary as it was, must throw light on the whole complicated business of marriage. … The clock in the hall struck an indeterminate half hour, it appeared to grow lighter outside, and there was a twittering of martins from the stables. From above came the vigorous harsh cawing of crows. Suddenly sleepy she returned to bed and almost immediately the room was flooded with sunlight.
It was an accepted fact now that Taou Yuen, the Garden of Peaches, stayed in her room until long after breakfast; and when Sidsall, rising from the table, found a servant taking up a pot of hot water for tea, she secured it and knocked carefully on the door above. The slurring hesitating voice said "Come in," and she entered with a diffidence covered by a cheerfully polite morning greeting. She found the other in crêpe de Chine pantaloons wrapped tightly about her ankles and bound over quilted muslin socks with gay brocaded ribbons and a short floating gown of gray silk worked with willow leaves. Her hair was an undisturbed complication of lustrous black, gold bodkins and flowers massed on either side; and her face, without paint or powder, was as smooth as ivory and the color of very pale coffee and cream.
Sidsall saw that she was at her toilet, and she put down the pot of steaming water, moving toward the door; but Taou Yuen, with a charmingly shy gesture, begged her to stay. She swiftly drew a cup of tea from silvery leaves, filled and lighted the minute bowl of her tobacco pipe, deeply inhaled the smoke; then returned to a mirror.
Fascinated, Sidsall followed every motion.
Taou Yuen polished her face sharply with a hot damp cloth and then dipped her fingers in a jar that held a sticky amber substance. "Honey," she said briefly, rubbing it into her cheeks and palms. Next she attacked her eyebrows, and skillfully wielding a thin silk cord left arches like pencil markings. At times she interrupted her preparations to turn to Sidsall with a little smile so engaging that the girl smiled sympathetically in answer. There were a gilt paper box of rice powder, with which she drenched her countenance, leaves of carmine transferred to her cheeks with a wet finger, and a silver pot of rouge from which she coated her lips. As she gazed approvingly at her reflection Sidsall said:
"It's very beautiful."
Her eyes, drawn up toward her temples, shone gayly; and, close to Sidsall, she touched the latter affectionately on the cheek. The cold sharp contact of the long curving finger guard gave the girl an unpleasant shock. It seemed lifeless, or like the scratching of a beetle. Suddenly the woman's glittering gaze, her expressionless face stiff with paint, the blaze of her barbaric colors, filled Sidsall with a shrinking that was almost dread.
She was even more oppressed by an instinctive feeling of what she could express to herself only as cruelty hidden under the other's scented embroidery. At the same time her curiosity persisted, conquered. She was unable, however, to think of any possible manner of introducing the new subject of her interest, love, and was forced to be content with an indifferent opening.
"We were all quite surprised when Mr. Dunsack called yesterday," she said. "He isn't in the least a friend of the family. Grandfather went to sea with his father, but even they didn't speak for years in Salem. The Dunsacks are a little common."
"I know," Taou Yuen replied. "Mr. Dunsack—a long time in Canton, at the American agents. China is bad for men like him. Black spirits get in them and the ten sins."
"He stared at you in the rudest way."
"He never saw a Manchu lady before. In China the dog would not have passed by the first gate. Here it is nothing to be a Manchu or an honorable wife; it is all like the tea houses and rice villages. Men walk up to you with bold eyes. I tell Gerrit and he laughs. I stay in the room and he brings me shamefully down. This Mr. Dunsack comes and the wise old man talks to him like a son. He touches your mother's hand. He sees the young girls like white candles."
"We wouldn't let him really bother us," Sidsall explained; "probably if he comes again we'll all be out."
Taou Yuen made a comment in Chinese. "A bad thought is a secret knife," she continued; "it is more dangerous than the anger of the Emperor, a sickness that kills with the stink of bodies already dead."
This seemed rather absurd to Sidsall. She considered once more the introduction of the subject of her new concern; but, in spite of Taou Yuen's extravagant appearance, there was a quality of being which made impossible any blunt interrogation. She had a decidedly aloof manner. Her mother, Sidsall recognized, and the older women they knew, had a trace of this; but in the Manchu it was carried infinitely further, a most autocratic disdain. Her feeling for the other shifted rapidly from attitude to attitude.
She watched, she was certain, these same sensations come over her Aunt Caroline Saltonstone, Mrs. Clifford and Mrs. Wibird, who called on Gerrit Ammidon's wife that afternoon. They were sitting with their crinoline widespread against their chairs, gazing with a concerted battery of curiosity at Taou Yuen's shimmering figure in the drawing-room screened against the sun. Mrs. Wibird, Sidsall thought—a woman of fat and faded prettiness, with wine red splotches beneath her eyes, and a voice that went on and on in the relating of various petty emotional disturbances—must have resembled Olive as a girl. It was probable, then, that Olive would look like her mother when in turn she was middle-aged. Mrs. Clifford, unseasonably huddled in her perpetual shawl, more than ever suggested a haggard marble in somberly rich clothes. Aunt Caroline sat with complacent hands and loud inattentive speech. Taou Yuen smiled at them placidly.
"Our men," said Mrs. Clifford, "went out to China for years. It never occurred to them however to marry a Chinese woman; but I dare say they didn't see the right sort."
"Most of the captains like China," Taou Yuen said. "They are so far away from their families—" she made a brief philosophical gesture, and Madra Clifford studied her with a narrowed gaze. "It would be the same," she continued, "if Chinamen came to America." Mrs. Wibird shuddered. "A yellow skin," she cried impetuously; "I can't bide the thought."
"I'm sure we'd be tremendously interested," Mrs. Saltonstone hurriedly put in, "if you'd tell us about your wedding. A Chinese wedding must be—be very gay, with firecrackers and—"
"My marriage with Captain Ammidon was not beautiful—I was a widow and he foreign. The Manchu wedding is very nice. First there is the engagement ceremony. I sit like this," she sank gracefully to the floor, cross-legged, "on the bed with my eyes shut, and, if I am noble, two princesses come and put the ju yi, it's jade and means all joy, on my lap. Two little silk bags hang from the buttons of my gown with gold coins, and two gold rings on my fingers must be marked with Ta hsi, that's great happiness."
"I'm told polygamy is an active practice," Mrs. Wibird remarked with a rising interest.
"Yes?" Taou Yuen asked.
"One man—a lot of wives."
"The Emperor has a great many and some Manchus take a second and third. You think that is wrong here. Who knows! The Chinese women are very good, very modest. The Four Books For Girls teach perfect submission; the five virtues are benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, sincerity. Confucius says, 'The root is filial piety.'"
"Very admirable," Mrs. Wibird nodded, agitating the small dyed ostrich plumes tipped with marabou of her bonnet; but it was clear to Sidsall that this was not the revelation for which she had hoped. A momentary silence, the edge of an uneasiness, enveloped the visitors.
"What lovely satins," Mrs. Saltonstone commented.
"Please—I have a box full; you will let me give you some?"
"Indeed yes, and thank you."
Mrs. Wibird, growing resentful, said that a cousin of her aunt's had been a missionary to China, "and did a very blessed work too."
Taou Yuen smoothly agreed that it was quite possible. "Our poor have a great many wrong and lustful ideas," she acknowledged; "they tell lies and beat their wives and gamble. The higher classes too, the mandarins and princes, use the people for their own security and rob them. Sometimes the law is not honest, and a man with gold gets free when a laborer is put in the bamboo cage."
Mrs. Clifford said very vigorously, "Ha!"
The silence returned intensified.
"I remember," the Manchu went on, "this will amuse you. My father-in-law, who was in the Canton Customs, told me that some boxes of Bibles came out from America, with other objects, and when they were opened at the Mission they were the wrong ones and filled with rum."
There was not, however, any marked appreciation of this on the part of the Salem women. They rose to leave and Taou Yuen sank on her knee. She gazed without a trace of emotion at the three flooding the door with their belled skirts. "They are the same everywhere," she told the girl. The latter moved out into the garden. There she subconsciously picked a rose and fastened it in her hair; her thoughts turned to Roger Brevard. In his place her Uncle Gerrit came out through the drawing-room window. The usual shadow of the house, lengthening with afternoon, was pleasantly enveloping, and they walked slowly over the grass.
"A flower in your hair," he said, "and by yourself. You have been thinking about true love." She blushed vividly at this unexpected angle on her mind and found it impossible to meet his keen blue eyes. "Love must be a remarkable thing." She raised a swift glance to his face and discovered that he had not spoken to her at all, but, hat in hand, was looking away with an expression of abstraction.
"I mean the unreasonable silly divine kind," he specified, now gazing at her quizzically, as if lost in a mood over which he had no control; "the sort that is as long as life and stronger. It is entirely different and ages older than the reasonable logical love, all proper and suitable and civilized; or the love that is the result of a determination, the result of a determination," he repeated, frowning darkly at their feet. Sidsall held her breath, thrilled by the wealth of what she had heard, fearful of diverting what might be yet revealed. But he moved away abruptly, in a manner that enforced solitude, and stood apparently examining the rockery.
Her brain rang with the splendid phrase, "Love as long as life and stronger." It seemed to clarify and state so much of her lately confused being. Hodie, artfully drawn into the consideration of earthly affection, was far less satisfactory than Gerrit Ammidon. She dwelt on the treasure beyond moth or rust, lost in an ecstasy of contemplation expressed in her customary explosive amens. At the same time she admitted that lower unions were blessed of God, and recommended Sidsall to think on "a man who has seen the light and by no means a sea captain." Sidsall replied cuttingly, "I think you must forget where you are."
"I forget nothing," Hodie stoutly maintained; "I'll witness before anyone." She settled the flounces of Sidsall's skirt with a deft hand.
Walking toward the Saltonstones' for tea, with a mulberry silk parasol casting a shifting glow on her expanse of clear madras, Sidsall wondered at the sudden change of almost all her interests and preoccupations. It was very disturbing—she fell into daydreams that carried her fancy away on a search that was a longing, a soft confusion of opening her arms to mystery. This varied with a restless melancholy; the old securities of her life were hidden in a mist of uncertainty in which her consciousness was troubled by nameless pressures; something within her held almost desperately back from further adventuring. But all the time a latent fascination was drawing her on, putting aside the curtain for her better view.
The Saltonstones' dwelling on Chestnut Street was one of a pair—a large solid square of brick—with two identical oval white porticoes and rows of windows keyed in white stone. Within the staircase swept up to a slender pillared opening, through which Lacy, calmly dressing, waved a deliberate hand. Mrs. Saltonstone was seated by the tall gilt framed mirror on a low marble stand between long front windows. "As usual," she said, in connection with her daughter, "Lacy's as cool as a water monkey; gets it from James; they wouldn't hurry if—" She searched in vain for an expression of her family's composure. "Now I am an impetuous woman." She promptly exhibited this quality in the vigor with which she met the wrong canister of tea brought by a servant. She didn't intend to serve Padre Souchong to a lot of people who apparently confused afternoon tea with an invitation to dinner.
In the small press which followed Sidsall stopped in the dining room with Lacy and Olive Wibird. Olive was still discussing men. "He sat holding my hand right on that bench by your hedge, Sidsall, and said that nothing could keep him from coming back for me, but he died of yellow fever in Batavia." She left in the company of a beau of fifty anyhow, with a glistening bald head, a silly smirking bow and flood of compliments. Lacy moved away and Sidsall found herself facing Roger Brevard.
"That looks remarkably like a garden," he said, waving toward an open door. The sun had become obscured in a veil of cloud, drooping until it almost seemed to rest on the bright green foliage; her companion's mood, too, was shadowed. "I thought you'd be here," he added outside, "and looked for you at once."
"There was something special you wanted to say?"
"My dear child," he replied, "can't you guess how absolutely refreshing you are? No, I have nothing special. But you'll soon get used to men around with no more reason than yourself."
She studied this seriously; and, as its complimentary intent emerged, a corresponding color stained her cheeks. Her gaze rested on him for the fleetest moment possible and, to her surprise, she saw that he was frowning.
"I came here just to see you. No," he corrected his period, "only to see you." His manner was surprisingly abrupt and disconcerting. "I can quite realize," he went on, "that I shouldn't say any of this. Yet, on the other hand, it is the most natural thing in the world. I have been listening to the conventional babble of teas and cotillions for so long that you are like a breath of lost youth. Certainly that is appropriate. I think," he told her, "that you are the youngest thing alive." Then he laughed, "So young that I have annoyed you."
"I feel a great deal older than I did, well—last month," she said.
"That is a tragedy." She felt that if he were still amused at her she was furious, but he was even graver than before. "To tell you helps hurry the charm to an end. That is what might be complained against me. Yet flowers will open, you know, and it might as well be in an honest sun."
"I don't understand," she admitted, troubled.
"Why, it means, Sidsall, that I am offering you an experienced hand, that
I'm certain I can do you more good than harm—"
"That's silly," she interrupted. "If you mean that we might be friends, really confidential friends, it would help me awfully. But then it's so one-sided."
"You'll have to overlook that," he answered; "probably all that I can give you, experience, isn't worth the smallest of your feelings. Probably you won't need me for an instant. Certainly the pleasure will be mine."
"You didn't understand," she told him, with dignity; "it's the other way round. I am not a particle interesting and everyone agrees that I'm too healthy. But I can't help it if my cheeks are red and mother won't let me have powder." It was obviously impossible to explain about Hodie and the lacing.
"I like it," he insisted. "I'll admit that I am unfashionable there. I think we'll hit on a great deal to share privately." There was a faint patter among the leaves, and a cold drop of rain fell on Sidsall's arm. Others struck Roger Brevard but he continued without apparently noticing them. "You must understand that I am entirely at your service. Sometimes, although they won't come yet, there are things a—a friend can do better than one's family. You'll ask me, Sidsall?"
"Yes," she said solemnly. More rain struck her; she could see it now plainly, falling between them. Roger Brevard's face was dark, the frown still scarred his forehead. Personally she was happier than she remembered ever being before and she wondered at his severity of bearing. "But you must go in at once," he cried, suddenly energetic, his familiar self; "you are getting wetter every minute."
The clouds dissolved into a late sunlight that streamed in long bars through the canopies of elms on the streets. From her windows Sidsall saw a world of flashing greenery and limpid sky. Usually when she was happy she sang unimportant bits of light song, but her present state was serious and inarticulate. The indeterminate questions, the disturbing vague moods, of the past days somehow combined and took on the tangible shape of Roger Brevard. Her curiosity about love was resolved into a sudden inner shrinking from its possibilities and meaning.
She was lost in her aloofness from mundane affairs: Taou Yuen in whispering silk, her grandfather's rotund tones, Laurel and Camilla and her mother, were distant, immaterial. In the evening she sat on the front steps, a web of white, dreamily intent on the shimmering sweep of Washington Square. After a little she was joined by Gerrit Ammidon. He wore linen trousers and a short blue sea jacket; and the wavering delicately lavender trail of smoke from his cheroot was like her floating thoughts.
"Already," he said, "I am full of getting back on my ship."
She smiled at him absently.
"The land doesn't do for a sailor," he continued. "They are always into trouble on shore. I can't say why it should be so but it is. If there's not one kind there is another; rum and such varnish for the able seaman, and—and complications for a master. I suppose that's because there are so confounded many unexpected currents and slants of wind, as you might say. On shipboard everything pretty much is charted; a thing will be followed more or less by a fixed consequence. The waves break so and so on coral or rocks or sand; there is usually the sun for an observation; a good man knows his ship, how many points she'll hold on the wind, how a cargo must be stowed, when to take in the light canvas. You can give the man at the wheel a course and turn in or stay on deck and beat your way through hell. It's exact, you know, but on shore—" he made a hopeless gesture.
"There are no regulations," he observed moodily; "or else nobody follows them: collisions all the time, sinkings and derelicts drifting round, awash and dismasted. But they are everywhere. That fellow, Edward Dunsack—" he stopped, lost in speculation. Then, "He seems harmless enough," he resumed, "even pitiful; but he sticks in your head. I wish I'd never brought his damned chest to Salem. A fool would have known better. I'm worse—a childish fool. A derelict," he said again. "You are smashing over a swell at twelve knots or more, everything spread, when, in a hollow, there it is squarely across your bow. No time to shift the wheel, and a ship's missing, perhaps in a hundred fathom. It might be the best ship afloat, the best master and stoutest crew, but in a minute she's only a salty tangle."
He laughed uneasily at the vividness of his fancy. "If it's hard for us what must it be for Taou Yuen?" he demanded. "Married to me! Here! That's courage for you." He tramped down the steps, across Pleasant Street, with his bare head sunk, and vanished into the obscurity of the Square. She caught a last glimmer of white trousers, a faint rapid gleam where his lighted cheroot described the arc of a passionate gesture on the night.
The spring, like the full buds of the hedge roses in the Ammidons' garden, passed swiftly into early summer. The flowers against the house showed gay perennial colors, the stocks and larkspur and snapdragons succeeded the retreating flood of the lilacs. The days were still yellow pools of heat, or else cooled by the faintly salt sea wind drawing down the elms and chestnuts, followed by purple-green nights of moonlight. They seemed to Sidsall to hold everything in a pause. She saw less and less of Taou Yuen who now scarcely came out of her room except for an occasional ride in the barouche with Mrs. Ammidon or a contemplative hour in the garden, usually at dusk. Apparently content with the elaborate rearrangement of her headdress, she sat for long periods, gazing out over Washington Square, idle except for the regular tap of her pipe emptying the ashes of the minute bowl.
Yet Sidsall's first interest in her had almost completely shifted to Gerrit Ammidon. He evidently preferred her company to that of the other members of his family, and they often took short largely silent walks, usually down to the Salem Marine Railway where the Nautilus was undergoing repairs. His protracted silences were broken by the sudden vehement protests against the generally muddled aspect of affairs or longer monologues of inner questioning and search. He almost never referred to her or made her part of a conversation; she was free to dwell on her own emotions while he, with a corrugated brow, went on in his tortuous and solitary course.
On an afternoon when they had walked to the foot of Briggs Street, and were gazing out over the tranquil water of Collins Cove, Gerrit Ammidon asked abruptly:
"Have you seen Nettie Vollar lately?"
Sidsall was unable to remember exactly when that had been. She rather thought she had caught a glimpse of her in Lawrence Place with books under her arm which she was probably taking from the Athenaeum for her grandfather. Anyone, she told herself privately, could see that Nettie Vollar wouldn't care for books.
Something had occurred, or threatened to occur, between her uncle and Nettie; what it was she had never been told; but she realized that only one thing could really happen between a man and a girl—they must have been in love. In the interest of this she recalled Nettie Vollar's appearance, but was unable to discover any marked attractions. The elder had a good figure, rather full for her age, and totally different from her own square solidity. Her hair was coarse and carelessly arranged, her clothes noticeable for a love of brightness rather than care in the spending of a small sum.
Gerrit Ammidon had the strangest tastes!
He was standing immobile, looking across the Cove as if he were on a quarter-deck searching for a hidden land. His legs were slightly spread, firmly planted in a manner to defeat any sudden lurching. She grew a little impatient at him staring like a block at nothing at all; she felt older than he, superior in the knowledge of life; he seemed hardly more than an absurd boy. Sidsall had a desire to shake him. He was so—so impracticable. "Don't you think we'd better be going?" she asked finally. Gerrit Ammidon turned and followed her obediently.
There were lights in the rope walk on Briggs Street; through a window she could see a man pacing down the long narrow interior laying a strand of hemp from the burden on his shoulders. It made her shudder to think of the monotonous passage forward and back, an eternity of slow-twisting rope. Yet life was something like that—she took the happenings of each day and wove them into a strand dark and bright: a strand, she realized, that grew stronger as it lengthened…. That would be true of everyone—of her companion and grandfather and Hodie.
They reached the house as the family were gathering in the dining room, when Sidsall found Roger Brevard unexpectedly staying for supper. She met his direct greeting and smile with a warm stir of pleasure and sat in a happy silence listening to the voices about the table. Her uncle had brought his wife down and the candles glittering among the lusters on the walls spread their light over the Manchu's strange vivid figure. Everything about life was so confusing, Sidsall thought. The night flowed in at the open windows drenched with magic: here were candles but outside were stars. The port in its engraved glass decanter seemed to burn with a ruby flame. "Bah!" her grandfather was exclaiming. "I'll put a thousand dollars on Gerrit and the Nautilus against any clipper built; but mind, in all weathers."
"Voyage by voyage," William Ammidon insisted, "he would be left in the harbor. The California gold deposits—."
Later a crowd, slowly collecting, recalled the fact that the Salem Band was to play that night in the Square. "Oh, mother, look," Laurel cried; "they've got lamps in their hats." Small wavering flames were being lighted on the musicians' hats; there were melancholy disconnected hoots from bassoons and the silver clear scale of a bugle. "Can't I get nearer, mother?" Laurel implored as usual. "Can't I go and see the little lamps on their heads?"
"Sidsall and I will look after her," Roger Brevard put in, and almost immediately the three were entering Washington Square. The throng was thickest directly behind the band, radiating in thinning numbers to the wooden boundary fence. Laurel led them to an advantageous position, where they could watch the curious effects of the ring of lights above intent faces drawn hollow-cheeked by the vigorous blowing of instruments. The leader, in the center of the flickering smoky illumination, now beat with his arms in one direction, now in another.
A second selection followed, and a third, during which, in surprising pauses, the band shouted a concerted "Hurrah!" Sidsall was infinitely contented. How splendidly erect and calm and distinguished Roger Brevard was! She hated younger men, they were only boys, who kept up a senseless talk about college humor. He saw instantly that the people were crushing her skirts, and firmly conducted them out of the crowd. It was nicer here beyond the wavering dark mass: a waltz flowed about her so tender and gracious that her eyes filled with tears.
But Laurel had to be taken home; and, clasping Mr. Brevard's hand, the little girl talked volubly as they moved away. "And so," she said, "I told her to keep her topsails full."
"What?" he demanded.
"She was falling off, you know—losing way. Hell's hatches—"
"Laurel," Sidsall corrected her sharply. "No, you mustn't laugh at her."
Only Gerrit Ammidon was on the steps, the other men were in the library; her mother had gone up with Janet. Laurel left them, and, without speech, they walked through the house to the lawn. The stars had apparently retreated to new infinities of distance and night, there was a throb of music so faint that it might be only an echoing memory; Roger Brevard's face was pale and strained. He asked:
"Have you forgotten that we are friends?"
"No," she returned seriously, lifting her look to his. He was very close to her and her heart beat unsteadily. She had a choking premonition of what was about to occur, but she stood without the slightest attempt to prevent his kiss. It affected him even more than herself, for he stepped back sharply with his hands clenched. Roger was silent for so long that she said, timidly:
"I didn't mind, so much."
"Thank you," he replied almost harshly. "There's no need for you to regret it. No need, no need. But if it were only a year more—."
"We all grow older," she told him wisely.
"So we do, Sidsall, and we change. But you should stay exactly as you are now, white and young and fragrant. Never the fruit but always the blossom, and always a night in early summer. The afterwards is an indifferent performance."
"I don't understand," her voice was shadowed.
"Sidsall for a moment. Don't move—opening petals, shy pure heart…loveliness…."
"I don't understand," she repeated, but the trouble had vanished. She even smiled at him: she was filled with an absolute security in her vision of Roger Brevard. Why, she had no need to question; it was an instinct beyond search and above knowledge; perhaps, she thought as they turned toward the house, its name was love.