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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Nine I COME FACE TO FACE WITH THE FUTURE
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I opened my eyes, and there was Helen smiling at me—not in mediaeval dress this time, but with a bunch of glowing violets at her belt. How curious for her to come to the laboratory at night! I looked about: there was Knowlton sitting near with the cheerfulest of grins on his face, and Mr. Claybourne too. What was happening? I made an effort, as I realized I had something of importance to tell Knowlton.

"The Texas formula—" words seemed strangely difficult to say—"Prospero has it. It's in the blue bottle with the rubber, cork—"

"Hush, dear," I heard Helen say, "you mustn't try to talk just yet," and she patted my pillow, kissed me, and gave me something cool to drink. I looked blankly about, but the room was quite dark—I was in bed!

"Isn't this the laboratory?" I asked helplessly. My head ached and whirled; my thoughts refused to work at this new problem.

"No, dearest," Helen's gentle voice said, "you are at home—with me."

"Home?" I wrestled vaguely with this idea. Where was home?—with me?

"At my house, Ted, dear—here in Deep Harbor," Helen whispered, her lips brushing my cheek.

"Your knee—you mustn't stand," I faltered, some recollection fighting through the chaos in my head.

"It's almost well, Ted dear. Watch me walk!" and she took a few steps away, then back to me.

"But last night—?" I gave it up as Helen put her cool hand over my month to silence me.

"Well, well," I heard a hearty sounding voice say at the door, "it's quite seasonable weather for Thanksgiving, isn't it? Snowing like the deuce—whew! And how's our patient this morning? I'll bet he slept all right last night after that potion I gave him," and a frock-coated, checked-waistcoated man walked up to my bed.

"Hello," he said quickly as he looked at me, speaking in a low tone to Helen. "When did the delirium leave him?"

"He has just waked up," I heard her reply.

"Who are you?" I said, almost aggressively, to the new arrival.

"Who am I? Come, that's a good one," he chuckled, apparently immensely pleased. "Who am I, Claybourne, eh?"

"Ted, this is Dr. Sinclair, who has been looking after you ever since."

"Ever since what?" I persisted. It was all a most annoying puzzle. "Helen, can't you explain?—please!" I said petulantly.

"Now then, how's our temperature today?"—and before I could say more Dr. Sinclair rendered me speechless with a little glass rod in my mouth that I was mortally afraid of breaking. I lay there, looking first at him and then at Helen, who smiled encouragement at me; Dr. Sinclair kept his eyes on a noisy gold watch. Rebellion was gathering headway within: why was I being treated like a child and put to bed? Some doctor's silly whim; he probably had made Helen believe I'd been overworking, when there was the Texas formula to solve. It was preposterous to lose time this way! What was the matter with Knowlton, that he let them do it?

"Well!" exclaimed the doctor, walking to the window with his thermometer and letting in the light. I could see snow on the roofs opposite. "We are almost normal again—not quite, but almost." Helen clapped her hands and gave a little cry. He shook the thermometer vigorously, put it away in his coat, put on his glasses, and surveyed me over the tops of them from the window. "No excitement yet—no worry, remember that, Miss Helen. Absolute quiet—nature's restorative, you know—that's the word. Give nature a chance, that's all we need now."

"You don't need to talk about me as if I were a baby," I interjected, my eyes burning with a strange anger.

"Hush, dear—you trust me, don't you?" I heard Helen say.

"Of course," I said, baffled and abandoning the struggle. It was all right to leave it in her hands.

"That's one of the symptoms," Dr. Sinclair coughed into the palm of his hand. I could hear every syllable. "Extreme excitability and irritation; the least little thing will arouse it. Hence caution, my dear young lady, caution. Keep on with the jellied boullion—not too much—just a few, spoonfuls—"

"Damn it, I'm not an invalid!" I tried to shout, but my voice broke, and only husky, throaty sounds came forth. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Claybourne—I didn't mean to swear before Helen—but I don't like that smug, oily, self-satisfied man—" and I pointed my finger at Dr. Sinclair. The latter took a step or two backward, like a person retreating from an unpleasant footing.

"Ahem!" coughed Dr. Sinclair. "I think, Miss Helen, it will be wiser to tell him—you can do it best, without exciting him. Er—I'll look in again this evening." Mr. Claybourne accompanied him downstairs.

"What are they planning to do with me now?" and I tried to rise up on one elbow, but found it unaccountably beyond my strength. Helen put one arm around me.

"You believe in me, don't you, Ted?"

"Yes," and I clutched her hand. "Please keep the others away from me. I must tell you something—it's important—"

Knowlton arose. "Don't bother about that now, Ted," he said. "I know all about the Texas formula—it's all right—do you get me?"

"I think I'd go, Mr. Knowlton," Helen said. "Let me tell him all by myself."

Knowlton bowed and shook her hand. Then he came over to me and offered his hand to me.

"Ted, I'm not much of a talker; this is just to tell you I'm glad."

I took his hand, since he seemed to wish it, and he left the room. I looked around at Helen: "Why did you come to me at the laboratory last night in mediaeval dress when Prospero was trying an incantation?"

Her face clouded, and she hastened to me, laying her cool hand on my forehead.

"Hush, Teddy, sweetheart," she put her face close to mine. I could feel that her eyelashes were wet.

"It was the formula—not an incantation," I went on—"it must have been the signs of the Zodiac that confused me."

"Teddy, do you know me?—it's Helen," she kissed into my ear.

"I know, dear, I know," I said. "I love you, Lady Grey Eyes."

She kissed me on the mouth. "Then listen, Ted, and try not to interrupt. Just lie quietly here and hold my hand."

"Of course," I promised.

"Prospero was a very wicked man, Ted—"

"He drank and was a drug fiend, but he does know the formula—"

"You promised not to interrupt." Every word of her gentle voice was soothing; I could feel it steal over me, driving away a great fatigue. "Quite quiet, Ted?"


"That night at the laboratory he tried to poison you, Ted, with fumes from a mixture in a dish. You were unconscious when they found you."

I laughed weakly, it all sounded so preposterous.

"You don't know chemistry, dear," I said, feeling quite superior. "He couldn't poison me that way without poisoning himself."

"He did," Helen said very slowly. "When they found you, Prospero was dead."

It took a long time for this to get into my brain in plausible shape.

"Prospero—dead?" I puzzled.

"Yes, dear."

"But there was nothing poisonous in the fumes of the Texas formula—only an aromatic oil to deceive meddlers."

"Prospero used that oil as a solvent for the poison—you see, Ted, I've been studying chemistry too—I shall read you the analysis we had made, tomorrow."

"Analysis—then you've found out the Texas formula?"

"Yes, Ted. It's all right—the factory is making it now."

"Did you work it out?" I asked—the puzzle was only slowly unravelling.

"No, dear—my chemistry hasn't gone that far! The young assistant Knowlton got from the Owens' Company did it."

"And the poison?"

"That was the difficulty. When we first got to you, Ted, we didn't know what it was, or what antidote to use. Your heart had slowed down to almost nothing—"

"There is a poison chart with a list of the symptoms and antidotes in my desk."

"Yes, Ted. I found that, and we got Dr. Sinclair quickly."

"You found it?"

"It was about five in the morning when one of the foremen happened to go into your laboratory. It made him ill, for the place was reeking—you and Prospero were lying on the floor. He threw open the windows and telephoned Mr. Knowlton. He dressed and called up father, and I went too, in spite of my knee."

"But why did Knowlton call up your father?"

"To let me know, Ted. Wasn't that dear of him? And I was really able to help. They wanted to take you to a hospital, but dad wouldn't listen to that—and so here you are."

I kissed her hand and tried to put in order the story as she had told it.

"I wonder why it didn't kill me, if it killed Prospero?"

I felt her clutch my hand.

"I wonder too, Ted darling," she whispered. "The doctor says your youth and constitution saved you. I wonder if that explains all?"

"Perhaps there was something to help—your love and care," I smiled.

"Even something beyond that, Ted dear. You see, Prospero had no chance, the doctor said, because of his drinking and drug-taking."

"It must have been a shock to 'mother.'" I don't know why I hadn't thought of her before, or why I thought of her now. Helen laughed one of her "questing laughs," the happy kind that only I was privileged to hear.

"Poor mother! She telegraphed for Miss Hershey to come and chaperon me and went herself to Asheville until Christmas. To have a real invalid in the house was the last straw!"

"But Leonidas!" I cried. "The poor hound is shut up in my rooms."

"No, he isn't, Ted. Dad went for him. He is asleep in front of the fire downstairs."

"So you are in Miss Hershey's hands?"

"Yes, but she is wonderfully tame, Ted, now she knows about you."

"What a marvellous forty-eight hours it has been!" I said. "We set forth after the questing beast in the morning—and before two suns, find love and life and death, all very near one another and each of them lurking in the most unlikely places."

"I think, Ted, that that is always the way one finds them—love, and life, and death are very near together—everywhere just as we have read of them in Mallory."

She went to the window and looked out.

"The snow is getting deep, Ted—you wouldn't know Myrtle Boulevard."

"Yes, I should," I answered. "It is the way leading down to Camelot."

She smiled, and the snow-light shone on her face, making her beauty luminous.

"It's Thanksgiving Day, Ted—did you know it?"

"Then I've been here—"

"Ten days." She came back to my side.

"Thanksgiving," I heard her murmur to herself—"dear God! I'm thankful."

"And you have nursed me all this time?"

"No, dear. You have a trained nurse to look after you—it was too serious to take any chances. I'm only the girl who loves you," and she tucked a violet over my left ear, laughing with the old ring of mischief in her voice. "Now you've talked enough and must go to sleep. I'll come back soon and bring you your Thanksgiving dinner—some delicious jellied bouillion. No—not another word," and she was gone, closing the door after her.

Naturally I could not sleep. In the first place, I argued with myself, my head not only feels queer but it aches abominably; in the second place, enough has happened to give insomnia to all the seven sleepers of Ephesus. The latter thought pleased me, and I laughed all by myself. My mind began to stroll about again in a waking dream, partly caused by my weakness and partly by the delirium which had ceased only a few hours ago. Why had Prospero tried to kill me? It seemed a motiveless thing to do, particularly as he had chosen to involve himself. Must have been insane, I concluded. He was fairly skilful about it, too—how did they know I hadn't killed him? There we both were, and no one to say who put the poison in the dish. This worried me. Suppose they ask me awkward questions at the inquest? I must talk to Helen about that. Helen! I hardly dared think about her—her love was the most wonderful thing in the world—why had she given it to me? How had I deserved it? It was a miracle one couldn't analyse....

"Ted, dear, it's time to take your medicine." I almost sat up, I was so surprised. I had slept, after all—most soundly. Furthermore, I felt refreshed and stronger. There stood Helen in the door, with a buxom-looking young woman in nurse's uniform beside her, carrying a glass on a tray.

"This is your nurse, Miss Conover, Ted."

"How do you do?" I said to this person, who began to bang my pillows about in a most business-like way, as much as to imply she was not in the habit of putting up with any nonsense from her patients.

"Quite well, thank you," and she presented a spoonful of medicine.

"What's in it?" I asked. "I'm a chemist, and I don't like to take unknown compounds."

"You aren't a biological chemist, are you?"


"Then you'd better follow your doctor's orders."

I felt that curious anger against strangers coming back.

"If you don't tell me what it is—I'll—I'll spill it on the floor," I said.

Helen stepped forward quickly.

"You'll take it from me, Ted, won't you?" and she offered the spoon. "It's a sedative, dear—we had to give you such quantities of stimulants to counteract the poison."

Calm returned, and I meekly licked the spoon.

"Take her away!" I whispered to Helen, rolling my head toward the aggressively efficient Miss Conover, who was tidying the room energetically.

"Ted, dear, you are getting well now. You must get used to strangers about you, especially when they have been so kind to you as Dr. Sinclair and Miss Conover," and Helen patted my shoulder.

Miss Conover joined in: "Didn't I tell you, Miss Helen, they was a whole lot easier to get on with delirious than convalescent? You was wishing for him to come out of it, but you ain't had my experience. I'd rather put a straight jacket on a nut than fetch a pipe and tobacco for a man the day before his hospital discharge."

Helen looked down at me with her eyes dancing, and the black murder that had been swelling up in me, during Miss Conover's disquisition on the care of men, subsided.

"I'll send her away, Ted," she said, kissing me. "I believe this time you are right."

Mr. Claybourne came in, radiating cheerfulness.

"Well, Ted, old man, how's the boy?" he shouted.

"Quietly, dad, quietly," reproved Helen.

"He's that touchy! It's only the effect of the fever. They are nearly always like that afterwards. Why, I've seen 'em pass away growling at everybody right up to the finish," Miss Conover threw in for good measure.

"I'm very grateful to you, Mr. Claybourne," I stammered, ignoring the nurse.

"Oh, tell all that to Helen," he laughed. "She's responsible, anyway. Come, little girl, it's two o'clock, and there's a big turkey and fixin's waiting downstairs. You'll have to leave Ted awhile to eat Thanksgiving dinner with your dad."

"There's a dramatic choice for you, Helen—parental love and duty versus self-sacrifice beside the pallid cot of the lowly and sick," I smiled at her.

"Dad, Ted's recovering a sense of humour—it's a little clumsy and conceited still, but it's coming back! Dad,—why can't we have this room cleared and our table set up here? You know Ted hasn't seen a Thanksgiving turkey since he was a little boy. They don't have Thanksgiving in England—and it seems so mean to go downstairs and stuff all by ourselves!"

Mr. Claybourne looked doubtfully about the room. I sympathized with his feelings, for a sick room is the last place one would choose for a banquet.

"That would be too much like writing Hamlet in a charnel house. Can't you carry me downstairs? and I'll sit with Leonidas before the fire while the rest of you gorge," I urged.

"How about that, Miss Conover?" Claybourne asked. Miss Conover looked at me, and I suspected revenge to be brooding in her eye. Helen added her entreaty, and the nurse wavered.

"I suppose there'll be less trouble in the end if we carry him down, though what Dr. Sinclair will say, goodness knows," Miss Conover conceded grudgingly. "But it'll only be for an hour, and then no more talk or visitors today."

"Agreed," I cried; "any price you say, nurse."

"Miss Conover," she corrected.

"I beg your pardon—good nature made me careless." Helen giggled. I was rolled up in dressing gown and blankets and carried downstairs by Mr. Claybourne, Helen and Miss Conover followed with pillows and miscellaneous glassware. Leonidas took a sniff at me and then greeted me with the most exuberant enthusiasm, knocking over at least one piece of furniture by the sheer power in his wagging tail. I had an armchair before a fire of crackling hickory logs; there was a small table beside me, with some of Helen's violets in a little vase in the centre.

Helen, her father, and Miss Conover sat at their gaily decked table, on which was a mountain of autumn fruit piled about an enormous pumpkin. The maid brought in a turkey as big as a boar's head. Mr. Claybourne busied himself with opening a bottle of champagne. Helen insisted that the turkey be placed before me and helped me carve the first slice before it was removed to Mr. Claybourne's seat.

"Isn't it a shame you can't eat any of it," Helen cried. Just then I did not care to. To tell the truth, the smell of the food made me feel so ill I was not certain I could stick the dinner out. But I knew better than to give Miss Conover an inkling of this. "It isn't as if one could make a dash for the upper deck, either," I thought to myself. At a critical moment the nurse placed some jellied bouillon before me and threatened forcible feeding. "One inch nearer with a spoonful of that stuff, and there'll be a real catastrophe," I murmured inwardly. I violently waved it away. Helen flew to my rescue. "I think if we leave Ted quite alone, he'll eat it by himself when he feels like it," she advised Miss Conover.

"The doctor ordered him to eat it," the nurse stubbornly contended. Helen conquered her, and I was left, not exactly at peace, but in a state of armed neutrality within. By concentrating my attention on the dancing flames in the chimney I kept the internal factions quiet.

Mr. Claybourne ran through his series of champagne toasts, repeating all the funny ones we had heard last time. He was eager for me to have one sip, but Helen stood firm. Miss Conover sat in stern disapproval of the champagne, her glass inverted before her, as if to emphasize with a kind of crystal exclamation point her opinion of such proceedings.

"Where is Miss Hershey?" I asked, as soon as I had the stomach for such a question.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Ted. She's dining out with an ex-governor of Georgia—I believe a third cousin twice removed of her mother's aunt, or some complicated Southern family relationship like that."

"I thought she said he was her cousin," Mr. Claybourne corrected. Helen winked at me; Miss Hershey would have called it "unmaidenly."

"I believe all Southerners who are anybody are each other's cousins, dad. Anyway, she said they didn't pay much attention to Thanksgiving in the South, and she preferred not to be here."

"The bloody shirt again, eh?" said Mr. Claybourne.

"I can't imagine Miss Hershey in a bloody shirt," I murmured.

"Really Mr. Edward!" Miss Conover exclaimed, half rising from the table. Helen laughed. "I don't think such remarks is nice," Miss Conover continued.

"H'm," said Mr. Claybourne, evidently wondering what it was all about.

"How's your foot, Ted?" Helen called out.

"There's nothing the matter with Ted's foot, is there?" said Mr. Claybourne.

"Not a thing!" snapped Miss Conover.

"There's your answer, Lady Grey Eyes," I laughed.

"What are we talking about?" Mr. Claybourne inquired.

"It's just a private joke between Ted and me, dad. You wouldn't understand," Helen explained.

"Then I don't think it's very polite of you to refer to it before others," her father grumbled. "I'm surprised at you, Ted."

"My opinion exactly," Miss Conover hastened to agree.

The tension was broken by the arrival of the maid with three kinds of pie—mince, pumpkin, and cranberry. Upon the later arrival of coffee, Miss Conover got up from the table.

"Time's up," she announced. "We'll carry Mr. Edward upstairs."

"A bargain's a bargain, and I'll go quietly," I said, "but damn it all just the same."

"Edward, will you oblige me by not swearing before Helen," Mr. Claybourne declaimed.

"I beg your pardon—and Helen's, if she wants it. Happiness has a bad effect on my manners."

They put me away in the dark room....

In the morning Knowlton dropped in to see me on the way to the office. Dr. Sinclair had called first and expressed approval of my progress. He also gave permission to talk business for half an hour, which was why I had Knowlton summoned by telephone.

"Well, Ted, our friend nearly did for you," he said with his diabolic grin, as he drew a chair alongside my bed. "I certainly was scared until the doc said he thought he could pull you through." I knew that for Knowlton to admit this much was for him to confess he had passed through an emotional crisis. Of course the way he put it was part of the "hard-headed" pose of all our race, whether English or American. It is the half-unconscious way in which we hide our sentimentality when the latter collides with reality.

"Thanks, Knowlton," I replied; "it would be awkward for the business if I got out ahead of time." I could not resist teasing him this much.

"Wasn't just what I meant, Ted," he said, squirming uncomfortably. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter. The point now is that the Owens people sent us a crackerjack, A-number-one man, and he analyzed the Texas formula in a jiffy, so to speak. Prospero lost us only four days, and the Owens man has speeded us up so we have made that good. He costs like hell, though, and as soon as you can get out again, Ted, I'll let him go."

"When will I be back, do you think?"

"Not until after Christmas—and then no more night work. We'll move you back to the day-shift. It's a damned nuisance."

"It's something of a nuisance for me, too," I said, "having your pet employee trying to murder me. I hope you appreciate it has been inconvenient."

Knowlton grinned: "Good boy, Ted, that's the stuff. Never lose your nerve."

"Why did Prospero do it?—that's what I can't understand."

"Paranoia, Ted—delusion of persecution: he worked with you, so he chose you for his best hallucination. Thought you were stealing his great idea about electricity direct from coal."

"How do you know? Did he leave a confession sticking out of his right boot?" I tried what I imagined to be sarcasm.

"No, but he used to tell me all about it. Said you dogged his every step. I warned you, Ted, to look out for him. I never thought he'd pull anything off in the factory with three hundred workmen all around. Outside, I judged you were pretty safe—besides, his time was 'most up. I guess I was a little careless, Ted."

"What did the police say? Were they interested?"

"Not much, after they heard my story. The Chief is a good friend of mine—I play pinochle with him Saturday nights. He thinks it just as well for you to look in at the Coroner's office some day when you are all right—just to dictate a little account of how it happened. He wants it to complete his records."

I marvelled at this easy-going, personally conducted justice.

"How about the circus woman?"

"Oh, we let her go. What was the use? She has an alibi a mile long."

"Do you mean to say all this can happen without any one being interested enough to require an investigation?"

"Sure—didn't I tell you I fixed it up with the Chief? He knows we're on the square, Ted. The newspapers ran a peach of a story—whole front page. I gave 'em a picture of you I dug out of your room. You'll find yourself quite a local hero when you get out. There was some good sob stuff in it about Miss Claybourne nursing you back from the Valley of the Shadow. I don't believe her old man liked it."

"I should think not," I cried indignantly. "It was outrageous."

"Well, Ted, I don't believe you'll have to announce your engagement. It's saved you that much trouble. The paper said you were related to the English nobility, and hinted that Miss Claybourne was the true explanation of your coming to Deep Harbor. When the evening paper came out, the headline man boosted you up a notch higher—something about 'English peer's son nursed by local society girl'—say, you furnished 'em great stuff for three days."

"That must be the real reason 'mother' went to Asheville," I reflected.

"Ted, what I don't understand is how Prospero could slip anything like that over on you. As a chemist you ought to know enough to look out for fumes. How'd he do it? Hypnotize you?"

"Like you," I replied, "I guess I was a little careless. You see, oil of cassia has a pleasant smell—really delicious—it's just like cinnamon, you know. I thought I'd bluffed Prospero into doing what I wanted, and—I don't know—one doesn't expect murder and suicide."

Knowlton rubbed his chin. "Let's hear the whole yarn," he said. I told him everything that had happened from the time he left me that night until I lost consciousness. At the end, Knowlton grinned: "Ted, the Eagle reporter can beat you all hollow telling that story. Wait until you see what he says happened. But he didn't know about the wife in Cripple Creek—you've scored on the Eagle there. Now take a little advice from me, Ted. The next time you try to blackmail a paranoiac because he's a bigamist, don't do it."

"Blackmail him?"

"Well, bluff him, then. It's about the same thing. You turn those jobs over to me. If you tried to commit burglary some one would pick your pocket and steal your jimmy."

Dr. Sinclair interrupted us at this point. "I think we've talked business long enough for one day. It makes us a little feverish, I fear. Just a moment; we'll have a look at our temperature," and he clicked his thermometer into my jaws, Knowlton both winked and grinned at me.

"I'll send the new chemist up to see you in a couple of days, Ted. Give him all our formulas and experiments you can think of. Good luck!" and he was gone.

Within two or three days I was allowed to come downstairs and sit at the big living-room window, where one could see the sleighs passing up and down Myrtle Boulevard. Helen, with Leonidas at her feet, would sit beside me, and we read or talked or kept silent as the fancy seized us. Miss Hershey discreetly kept in the library, where she alternated embroidering with copious letter-writing. Her correspondents were apparently endless, for fully half her time was occupied with letters. Helen and I used to try to guess their contents; once we found a half finished one on the library table, and it was only by the exercise of the strongest will-power that we resisted the temptation to read it. The handwriting was angular and large, sprawling diagonally across the page: like Miss Hershey, it was conscious of its excellent social connections. Occasionally we indulged in a little teasing at Miss Hershey's expense, but without solving the mystery of her correspondence. One thing we did that horrified her: we bought a scrap book and pasted in all the lurid accounts of the "tragedy" collected from the pages of the Eagle and Evening Star. Helen was particularly fond of the passage in which she was described as nursing "a scion of the English nobility back from the Valley of the Shadow." We used to read it aloud to Miss Hershey until the latter protested it was sacrilegious. There was also a beautiful map of my laboratory, with dotted lines, foot prints, and two crosses to show where Prospero and I were found.

We also had some correspondence of our own on our hands. There was my family to write to; the cable had already informed them of the accident and my recovery, but we had to tell them all about our engagement and future plans. Helen was shy and diffident about it, nor did I blame her. It was no easy task to write to a mother and sister she had never seen. She studied their pictures a long time before beginning and asked for advice often as she wrote. Then she wouldn't show me the finished letters, and we almost squabbled over it. She got out of it at last by telling me that some of the things she had said about me would make me too conceited. I retaliated by refusing to let her see my letters. All this took the whole of a happy morning.

Although we had delayed formal announcement of our engagement until Mrs. Claybourne's return at Christmas, all Deep Harbor knew it, thanks to the Eagle, and every day Helen's friends dropped in to congratulate us and give us good wishes. Every one was friendly and cordial; I felt as if the town had adopted me and now counted me as part of it. Even the Herr Lieutenant Ludwig von Oberhausen made a call, stiffer and more formal than ever, as the importance of the occasion demanded. He was making great headway with the wealthy Miss Greyson, and it was rumoured their engagement would be announced at about the same time as ours.

Soon the doctor gave me permission to go out in the afternoons for a short walk; Helen and I went back and forth on Myrtle Boulevard, all bundled up in wraps and furs, for nearly every day now a screaming north wind blew off the lake. There was snow on the ground, several inches of it, but not so much, Helen said, as there would be after Christmas. The cold was greater than any I had ever experienced, and in my weakened condition I felt it keenly. On some days the air in one's lungs was almost painful; the snow underfoot squeaked annoyingly as one trod upon it. Helen throve on these sharp days; her cheeks glowed with a rosy tint, and the grey of her eyes took on new depths of color and an added sparkle. I liked to watch an escaped lock of her brown hair blowing across her face as I walked beside her, or to see the radiant health shown by her springing step, her quickly aroused laugh, and her interest in everything that the earth had to offer. On these expeditions Sir Leonidas de la Patte Jaune was our delighted escort. Although no person passed upon the street without turning to smile at his uncouth appearance,—he would not have attracted more attention if he had been a hippogriff,—Sir Leonidas's happy spirit was irrepressible. He had a sniff and a wag for all comers and an abiding faith in the goodness of human nature. Occasionally we dropped in to return calls, stopping here and there at various large piles of rough stone with rounded arches which comprised the architecture of Myrtle Boulevard's newer residences.

On one gorgeous sunshiny afternoon, when the breeze from the lake was like iced champagne, Dr. Sinclair prescribed a sleigh ride, on condition that Helen did the driving. We consulted by telephone my old friends at the "livery and feed" stable, with the result that they delivered at our front door a shiny equipage all bells and fur. It was my first experience with a sleigh, and I was much amused to watch Helen's preparations. She could not have done more had we been planning a dash for the Pole. Hot bricks and steamer rugs were merely preliminaries. I was tucked in like a baby and wrapped up until only my eyes and nose were left visible. All having been done to her satisfaction, this handsome young lady took her seat beside me, and we were off. The motor-car had not as yet become such a common experience as to deaden us for all lesser forms of speed; thus it was that this first sleigh-ride seemed to me a most exhilarating thing. The low seat comparatively close to the ground, and the absence of any noise save for the bells, did much to increase the illusion of rapid motion. No wonder Henry Irving had been struck with the dramatic nature of sleigh bells. I told Helen about that strange old melodrama, The Bells, as we whizzed along our favourite Ridge Road. "We shall go to see Irving together in it next year when we are in London, Ted," she whispered. I thrilled with delight, as I always did whenever Helen referred to the golden future we were to share. We were intensely happy in the present, yet "next year" enshrined everything we really wanted; we looked upon our present, happy as it was, as something of a hand-to-mouth existence. Next year we should begin to live.

"I think I shall take some courses at South Kensington Museum," Helen remarked casually, awakening me from a dream of next year.

"South Kensington—what on earth do you know about it?"

"I've naturally been looking up a few things, Ted dear, about the city where I am to spend the rest of my life—"

"Yes, but what does one study at South Kensington?"

"I'm ashamed of you, Ted—particularly when you've told me about the theatre things to be seen there—costumes and pictures and all the Pre-Raphaelite designs for furnishings. Well, there is also a big technical school, too, and I'm going to study some of these things. I want to be useful, too."

I did not reply immediately. I think it is always a shock to discover that the woman one loves has a practical turn of mind. As a matter of fact, it is the woman who plans life, although the man is not always aware of it.

"Well, Ted, you didn't imagine life was all bread and cheese and kisses, did you?" she broke in upon me. "Of course, if you don't want me to study the things you really like, I won't."

Woman's illogical relentless logic is always unanswerable.

"I'm sorry you took me by surprise, dear," I apologized. "The truth is, I haven't planned our life very definitely."

"Then don't you think it is about time we did?"

I noted the change in pronouns. The horse slowed down to a walk, his breath drifting back from his nostrils like smoke from a dragon.

"I suppose we should," I admitted a little reluctantly. The practical aspects of living I was accustomed to think concerned only the contents of my laboratory. Once I closed that door behind me, I entered another world where no practical matters were ever considered. For the first time I realized that this was a sign of weakness of character. I sat up disturbed at this latter thought. The horse zig-zagged across the road at will.

"Chemistry isn't your real work, Ted—it never will be. You've admitted that a dozen times."

I nodded.

"Not that your chemistry isn't good, as far as your temperament will allow it to be, but there's just the trouble. It ties you to a business routine in which you'll be mediocre. I don't want a mediocre husband, Ted."

"What has all this to do with South Kensington?" I queried, feeling quite uncomfortable. There was a determination and conviction in Helen's tone much at variance with the masculine theory of the clinging vine.

"While we earn our living at chemistry, Ted dear, we must get ready for our real work. That's why I'm going to study at South Kensington."

A light dawned on me. Helen was going to help—to work with me! I was so happy my throat hurt.

"Some day, Ted, you'll write, and we'll make the toy theatre you've told me about real. I shall be able to help you, for I'll learn all I can about costumes and furniture and scenery. And I'm going to read every play ever written!"

For a mile we rhapsodized in wild enthusiasm, building one of the most astonishingly well-equipped castles-in-Spain imaginable. Apart from containing the neatest little country-house and garden, it had also a laboratory and a theatre which was to be the world's center of all important things dramatic. We didn't forget a kennel for Sir Leonidas de la Patte Jaune. Curiously enough, neither of us thought of a nursery. No shadow of doubt crossed our minds that everything we planned would be realized. We had such faith in each other we were certain anything we wished was attainable. We had only to join forces to make the world bow to us. It wasn't conscious conceit; we were humble in our happiness. There were many things in the world which needed doing and doing well; we were merely planning to do our share. We thought of it all as our duty toward life; there was no wish for vainglory—no longing for riches. Indeed, we did already know enough to understand that the things we were going to do were not the things which bring wealth—at least, that it was not the easiest road to financial success. Nevertheless we always had in our minds, as a major premise, sufficient funds for our purposes. This latter assumption it did not occur to us to analyse. We could live by chemistry as we went along.

We returned home to find Miss Hershey and Mr. Claybourne awaiting us with another practical discussion. It was necessary formally to announce our engagement; the question of marriage was to be a subject for later negotiations. My illness and Helen's care of me had, however, rather forced the issue, so that Mr. Claybourne thought it wise to recognize the engagement. Mrs. Claybourne was returning from Asheville specially on this account. So much Mr. Claybourne contributed. Miss Hershey took up the running at this point: she had decided, upon consultation with Mr. Claybourne, to have the engagement announced at a dinner party, to be followed by a dance, on Christmas eve at the country club. What did we think of this arrangement? To tell the honest truth, we neither of us, as we confessed when alone, cared to be the centre of such an elaborate show. To protest was ungracious when intentions were so excellent; with much forcing of our dispositions we appeared delighted. Miss Hershey carried off Helen to make a list of guests; Mr. Claybourne took me into the library. We sat down, I in my usual trepidation when confronted with practical details.

"I have had a letter from your father, Edward," he began, taking out a familiar envelope. I was surprised, for as yet I had received only a cable of good wishes. "He appears pleased with the step you have taken." I bent my face into a smile. "I have been just a trifle uneasy for fear that his disapproval might affect your future. He is, on the contrary, ready to do what he can to assist."

This time I really smiled—not that I had had any doubt, but it was pleasant to learn of my father's absolute trust in me.

"He is not too encouraging over finances, but seems to think he can give you employment that will enable you to take care of Helen—and of any addition."

"Addition?" I asked, puzzled. Mr. Claybourne looked at me over the rims of his glasses, and tapped his letter on the corner of the table.

"I assume that young married people usually have additions to their family," he said. I blushed furiously.

"Ye-yes," I murmured feebly. "I hadn't thought of that."

"I sometimes wonder, Edward, if you and Helen think of any one but yourselves," he said, gazing out the window. I was stung by this rebuke, perhaps because its truth struck me forcibly. "But I am not surprised; it is entirely natural for young people to be selfish—" I made a gesture of protest, which he ignored. "They think they can make the world over in their own image. Sometimes they forget the world has been in business longer than they have. The point is, however, that in being selfish together you mustn't be selfish to each other. I am glad neither of you have much money, but I also want Helen to be comfortable. That, I conclude from your father's letter, will be the case. The less you have, down to a certain point, the harder you will work for each other. Have you anything to say, Edward?"

I thought, but no ideas occurred to me. I looked around uneasily, wishing Helen were there to back me up.

"I notice, Edward, that you have already formed the habit of leaning on Helen's decisions. I admit that she is a young woman with force of character beyond her years." He smiled slightly, with a reminiscent air. "I'm not always immune myself; your engagement is proof of that," he laughed. "But I am telling you this for your good, Ted. Be your own boss; Helen will respect you all the more, and so will I. Besides, Edward, it's a pretty important element in success in life."

Again no suitable reply from me was forthcoming. This rather plain hint about "success in life" fitted with the weakness-of-character theory that had come to me upon the Ridge Road earlier in the afternoon. I wondered how true it was. If true, was it curable? Mr. Claybourne seemed to be waiting, for I heard him cough. Helen saved the situation by coming in and sitting on the arm of my chair.

"What have you been saying to Ted, dad?"

"One or two things he ought to know, my daughter," Mr. Claybourne replied gravely.

"That's an awfully unfair advantage to take of any one, dad. Of course Ted didn't know what to say back to you?" she teased, rumpling my hair.

"You are both two ignorant young fools," Mr. Claybourne exploded ungrammatically.

"What else do you expect us to be, dad? Besides, according to Mr. Pope's famous line, it would be silly of us to be anything else. Look it up, dad, in your Bartlett's Familiar Quotations."

Mr. Claybourne chewed the end off a fresh cigar, obviously in a bad humour.

"Well, Helen, all I can say is that I hope the world won't give you too hard a knock, when it decides to take the conceit out of you. Other people have been in love before," he added with what I thought was irrelevance.

"Of course they have, dad dear. But not just like Ted and me."

Mr. Claybourne uttered a pardonable snort.

"As long as we have each other, nothing can happen to either of us," Helen said simply, in a tone that made me grip her arm tightly.

"As long as—" Mr. Claybourne said slowly to himself without finishing the sentence. A boy stopped outside the window and lit the street lamp. The room was growing dark, and a new moon was just visible above the opposite roof. There was a long silence, during which Mr. Claybourne puffed at his cigar.

"Why, what a gloom you are, dad, trying to frighten us out of our happiness with all your pessimistic grown-up ideas," Helen cried, flinging her arms impulsively about him, knocking the ash off his cigar, and seriously deranging his dignity. Nevertheless he patted his daughter on the back and was secretly much pleased.

"Well, little girl," he smiled, "getting 'round your old dad just as you always do," and he kissed her.

"Of course!" she laughed. "That's what dads are for."

Even Miss Hershey's meticulously exact explanation, at dinner, of how the lists of guests for the engagement dinner and dance had been selected, together with much family history of the individuals, could not drive away the fit of depression the afternoon had brought me. I had really never thought of the future as something to be approached with dread and suspicion; it had always seemed sufficient to blunder into it gaily and unquestioningly. I had never doubted it could be other than pleasant. Forethought could always prevent tragedies.... Could it? If one knew what tragedy to expect—yes; how if there were tragedies that crept upon one unawares? What was it the Bible said about "a thief in the night"? It was the old peril of too much happiness. The whole world was enthralled to this superstition and called its childish fears "commonsense precaution." With this fairly satisfactory and optimistic solution I finally went to bed.

A week before the dinner dance Mrs. Claybourne returned, quite limp from her journey in a Pullman and the onward rush of events at home. She felt utterly discouraged, she said, at the hopelessness of it all, and the general lack of consideration. Helen and I were made to feel like criminals detected in the midst of some clandestine crime. Helen had to have a new evening gown and an afternoon dress; she ought really to have a new set of furs, but that was out of the question, because of the terrible expense of the dance. Miss Hershey clicked and oozed sympathy from the background. Mr. Claybourne put a stop to his wife's beating of her breast by ordering Helen and her mother to New York to get everything needed.

"You can send the bills to me, and I'll do the worrying up at the office," he finished.

"I think I'll go along and do my shopping in New York, too," I put in, without pausing to think. This produced a renewed outburst. It wasn't proper, was the sum and substance.

"I've got something important to do in New York," I contended stubbornly. "Helen has to have an engagement ring."

Helen and her father took my part. It was better, he thought, for some one to go along who could look after the party and keep Helen amused. Helen simply remarked that the idea I was not to go was preposterous. Besides, the change would do me good. I would come back refreshed and ready to resume work. Mrs. Claybourne yielded, after first fleeing to her room in tears. It was settled I was to go along.


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