Johnnie had a set of small volumes of English verse, extensively annotated by his own hand, which Stoddard had brought to her early in their acquaintance, leaving it with her more as a gift than as a loan. She kept these little books after all the others had gone back. She had read and reread them--cullings from Chaucer, from Spenser, from the Elizabethan lyrists, the border balladry, fierce, tender, oh, so human--till she knew pages of them by heart, and their vocabulary influenced her own, their imagery tinged all her leisure thoughts. It seemed to her, whenever she debated returning them, that she could not bear it. She would get them out and sit with one of them open in her hands, not reading, but staring at the pages with unseeing eyes, passing her fingers over it, as one strokes a beloved hand, or turning through each book only to find the pencilled words in the margins. She would be giving up part of herself when she took these back.
Yet it had to be done, and one miserable morning she made them all into a neat package, intending to carry them to the mill and place them on Stoddard's desk thus early, when nobody would be in the office. Then the children came in; Deanie was half sick; and in the distress of getting the ailing child comfortably into her own bed, Johnnie forgot the books. Taking them in at noon, she met Stoddard himself.
"I've brought you back your--those little books of Old English Poetry," she said, with a sudden constriction in her throat, and a quick burning flush that suffused brow, cheek and neck.
Stoddard looked at her; she was thinner than she had been, and otherwise showed the marks of misery and of factory life. The sight was almost intolerable to him. Poor girl, she herself was suffering cruelly enough beneath the same yoke she had helped to lay on the children.
"Are you really giving up your studies entirely?" he asked, in what he tried to make a very kindly voice. He laid his hand on the package of books. "I wonder if you aren't making a mistake, Johnnie. You look as though you were working too hard. Some things are worth more than money and getting on in the world."
Johnnie shook her head. For the moment words were beyond her. Then she managed to say in a fairly composed tone.
"There isn't any other way for me. I think some times, Mr. Stoddard, when a body is born to a hard life, all the struggling and trying just makes it that much harder. Maybe when the children get a little older I'll have more chance."
The statement was wistfully, timidly made; yet to Gray Stoddard it seemed a brazen defence of her present course. It pierced him that she on whose nobility of nature he could have staked his life, should justify such action.
"Yes," he said with quick bitterness, "they might be able to earn more, of course, as time goes on." It was a cruel speech between two people who had discussed this feature of industrial life as these had; even Stoddard had no idea how cruel.
For a dizzy moment the girl stared at him, then, though her flushed cheeks had whitened pitifully and her lip trembled, she answered with bravely lifted head.
"I thank you very much for all the help you've been to me, Mr. Stoddard. What I said just now didn't look as though I appreciated it. I ask your pardon for that. I aim to do the best I can for the children. And I--thank you."
She turned and was gone, leaving him puzzled and with a sore ache at heart.
Winter came on, wet, dark, cheerless, in the shackling, half-built little village, and Johnnie saw for the first time what the distress of the poor in cities is. A temperature which would have been agreeable in a drier climate, bit to the bone in the mist-haunted valleys of that mountain region. The houses were mostly mere board shanties, tightened by pasting newspapers over the cracks inside, where the women of the family had time for such work; and the heating apparatus was generally a wood-burning cook-stove, with possibly an additional coal heater in the front room which could be fired on Sundays, or when the family was at home to tend it.
All through the bright autumn days, Laurella Himes had hurried from one new and charming sensation or discovery to another; she was like the butterflies that haunt the banks of little streams or wayside pools at this season, disporting themselves more gaily even than the insects of spring in what must be at best a briefer glory. When the weather began to be chilly, she complained of a pain in her side.
"Hit hurts me right there," she would say piteously, taking Johnnie's hand and laying it over the left side of her chest. "My feet haven't been good and warm since the weather turned. I jest cain't stand these here old black boxes of stoves they have in the Settlement. If I could oncet lay down on the big hearth at home and get my feet warm, I jest know my misery would leave me."
At first Pap merely grunted over these homesick repinings; but after a time he began to hang about her and offer counsel which was often enough peevishly received.
"No, I ain't et anything that disagreed with me," Laurella pettishly replied to his well-meant inquiries. "You're thinkin' about yo'se'f. I never eat more than is good for me, nor anything that ain't jest right. Hit ain't my stomach. Hit's right there in my side. Looks like hit was my heart, an' I believe in my soul it is. Oh, law, if I could oncet lay down befo' a nice, good hickory fire and get my feet warm!"
And so it came to pass that, while everybody in the boarding-house looked on amazed, almost aghast, Gideon Himes withdrew from the bank such money as was necessary, and had a chimney built at the side of the fore room and a broad hearth laid. He begged almost tearfully for a small grate which should burn the soft bituminous coal of the region, and be much cheaper to install and maintain. But Laurella turned away from these suggestions with the hopeless, pliable obstinacy of the weak.
"I wouldn't give the rappin' o' my finger for a nasty little smudgy, smoky grate fire," she declared rebelliously, thanklessly. "A hickory log-heap is what I want, and if I cain't have that, I reckon I can jest die without it."
"Now, Laurelly--now Laurelly," Pap quavered in tones none other had ever heard from him, "don't you talk about dyin'. You look as young as Johnnie this minute. I'll git you what you want. Lord, I'll have Dawson build the chimbley big enough for you to keep house in, if them's yo' ruthers."
It was almost large enough for that, and the great load of hickory logs which Himes hauled into the yard from the neighbouring mountain-side was cut to length. Fire was kindled in the new chimney; it drew perfectly; and Pap himself carried Laurella in his arms and laid her on some quilts beside the hearthstone, demanding eagerly, "Thar now--don't that make you feel better?"
"Uh-huh." The ailing woman turned restlessly on her pallet. The big, awkward, ill-favoured old man stood with his disproportionately long arms hanging by his sides, staring at her, unaware that his presence half undid the good the leaping flames were doing her.
"I wish't Uncle Pros was sitting right over there, t'other side the fire," murmured Laurella dreamily. "How is Pros, Johnnie?"
For nobody understood, as the crazed man in the hospital might have done, that Laurella's bodily illness was but the cosmic despair of the little girl who has broken her doll. It had been the philosophy of this sun-loving, butterfly nature to turn her back on things when they got too bad and take to her bed till, in the course of events, they bettered themselves. But now she had emerged into a bleak winter world where Uncle Pros was not, where Johnnie was powerless, and where she had been allowed by an unkind Providence to work havoc with her own life and the lives of her little ones; and her illness was as the tears of the girl with a shattered toy.
The children in their broken shoes and thin, ill-selected clothing, shivered on the roads between house and mill, and gave colour to the statement of many employers that they were better off in the thoroughly warmed factories than at home. But the factories were a little too thoroughly warmed. The operatives sweated under their tasks and left the rooms, with their temperature of eighty-five, to come, drenched with perspiration, into the chill outside air. The colds which resulted were always supposed to be caught out of doors. Nobody had sufficient understanding of such matters to suggest that the rebreathed, superheated atmosphere of the mill room was responsible.
Deanie, who had never been sick a day in her life, took a heavy cold and coughed so that she could scarcely get any sleep. Johnnie was desperately anxious, since the lint of the spinning room immediately irritated the little throat, and perpetuated the cold in a steady, hacking cough, that cotton-mill workers know well. Pony was from the first insubordinate and well-nigh incorrigible--in short, he died hard. He came to Johnnie again and again with stories of having been cursed and struck. She could only beg him to be good and do what was demanded without laying himself liable to punishment. Milo, the serious-faced little burden bearer, was growing fast, and lacked stamina. Beneath the cotton-mill régime, his chest was getting dreadfully hollow. He was all too good a worker, and tried anxiously to make up for his brother's shortcomings.
"Pony, he's a little feller," Milo would say pitifully. "He ain't nigh as old as I am. It comes easier to me than what it does to him to stay in the house and tend my frames, and do like I'm told. If the bosses would call me when he don't do to suit 'em, I could always get him to mind."
Lissy had something of her mother's shining vitality, but it dimmed woefully in the rough-and-ready clatter and slam of the big Victory mill.
The children had come from the sunlit heights and free air of the Unakas. Their play had been always out of doors, on the mosses under tall trees, where fragrant balsams dropped cushions of springy needles for the feet; their labour, the gathering of brush and chips for the fire in winter, the dropping corn, and, with the older boys, the hoeing of it in spring and summer--all under God's open sky. They had been forced into the factory when nothing but places on the night shift could be got for them. Day work was promised later, but the bitter winter wore away, and still the little captives crept over the bridge in the twilight and slunk shivering home at dawn. Johnnie made an arrangement to get off from her work a little earlier, and used to take the two girls over herself; but she could not go for them in the morning. One evening about the holidays, miserably wet, and offering its squalid contrast to the season, Johnnie, plodding along between the two little girls, with Pony and Milo following, met Gray Stoddard face to face. He halted uncertainly. There was a world of reproach in his face, and Johnnie answered it with eyes of such shame and contrition as convinced him that she knew well the degradation of what she was doing.
"You need another umbrella," he said abruptly, putting down his own as he paused under the store porch where a boy stood at the curb with his car, hood on, prepared for a trip in to Watauga.
"I lost our'n," ventured Pony. "It don't seem fair that Milo has to get wet because I'm so bad about losing things, does it?" And he smiled engagingly up into the tall man's face--Johnnie's own eyes, large-pupilled, black-lashed, full of laughter in their clear depths. Gray Stoddard stared down at them silently for a moment. Then he pushed the handle of his umbrella into the boy's grimy little hand.
"See how long you can keep that one," he said kindly. "It's marked on the handle with my name; and maybe if you lost it somebody might bring it back to you."
Johnnie had turned away and faltered on a few paces in a daze of humiliation and misery.
"Sis' Johnnie--oh, Sis' Johnnie!" Pony called after her, flourishing the umbrella. "Look what Mr. Stoddard give Milo and me." Then, in sudden consternation as Milo caught his elbow, he whirled and offered voluble thanks. "I'm a goin' to earn a whole lot of money and pay back the trouble I am to my folks," he confided to Gray, hastily. "I didn't know I was such a bad feller till I came down to the Settlement. Looks like I cain't noways behave. But I'm goin' to earn a big heap of money, an' buy things for Milo an' maw an' the girls. Only now they take all I can earn away from me."
There was a warning call from Johnnie, ahead in the dusk somewhere; and the little fellow scuttled away toward the Victory and a night of work.
Spring came late that year, and after it had given a hint of relieving the misery of the poor, there followed an Easter storm which covered all the new-made gardens with sleet and sent people shivering back to their winter wear. Deanie had been growing very thin, and the red on her cheeks was a round spot of scarlet. Laurella lay all day and far into the night on her pallet of quilts before the big fire in the front room, spent, inert, staring at the ceiling, entertaining God knows what guests of terror and remorse. Nothing distressing must be brought to her. Coming home from work once at dusk, Johnnie found the two little girls on the porch, Deanie crying and Lissy trying to comfort her.
"I thest cain't go to that old mill to-night, Sis' Johnnie," the little one pleaded. "Looks like I thest cain't."
"I could tell Mr. Reardon, and he'd put a substitute on to tend her frames," Lissy spoke up eagerly. "You ask Pap Himes will he let us do that, Sis' Johnnie."
Johnnie went past her mother, who appeared to be dozing, and into the dining room, where Himes was. He had promised to do some night work, setting up new machines at the Victory, and he was in that uncertain humour which the prospect of work always produced. Gideon Himes was an old man, pestered, as he himself would have put it, by the mysterious illness of his young wife, fretted by the presence of the children, no doubt in a measure because he felt himself to be doing an ill part by them. His grumpy silence of other days, his sardonic humour, gave place to hypochondriac complainings and outbursts of fierce temper. Pony had hurt his foot in a machine at the factory and it required daily dressing. Johnnie understood from the sounds which greeted her that the sore foot was being bandaged.
"Hold still, cain't ye?" growled Himes. "I ain't a-hurtin' ye. Now you set in to bawl and I'll give ye somethin' to bawl for--hear me?"
The old man was skilful with hurts, but he was using such unnecessary roughness in this case as set the plucky little chap to sobbing, and, just as Johnnie entered the room, got him heavy-handed punishment for it. It was an unfortunate time to bring up the question of Deanie; yet it must be settled at once.
"Pap," said the girl, urgently, "the baby ain't fit to go to the mill to-night--if ever she ought. You said that you'd get day work for them all. If you won't do that, let Deanie stay home for a spell. She sure enough isn't fit to work."
Himes faced his stepdaughter angrily.
"When I say a child's fitten to work--it's fitten to work," he rounded on her. "I hain't axed your opinion--have I? No. Well, then, keep it to yourself till it is axed for. You Pony, your foot's done and ready. You get yourself off to the mill, or you'll be docked for lost time."
The little fellow limped sniffling out; Johnnie reached down for Deanie, who had crept after her to hear how her cause went. It was evident that sight of the child lingering increased Pap's anger, yet the elder sister gathered up the ailing little one in her strong arms and tried again.
"Pap, I'll pay you for Deanie's whole week's work if you'll just let her stay home to-night. I'll pay you the money now."
"All right," Pap stuck out a ready, stubbed palm, and received in it the silver that was the price of the little girl's time for a week. He counted it over before he rammed it down in his pocket. Then, "You can pay me, and she can go to the mill, 'caze your wages ought to come to me anyhow, and it don't do chaps like her no good to be muchin' 'em all the time. Would you ruther have her go before I give her a good beatin' or after?" and he looked Johnnie fiercely in the eyes.
Johnnie looked back at him unflinching. She did not lack spirit to defy him. But her mother was this man's wife; the children were in their hands. Devoted, high-couraged as she was, she saw no way here to fight for the little ones. To her mother she could not appeal; she must have support from outside.
"Never you mind, honey," she choked as she clasped Deanie's thin little form closer, and the meagre small arms went round her neck. "Sister'll find a way. You go on to the mill to-night, and sister'll find somebody to help her, and she'll come there and get you before morning."
When the pitiful little figure had lagged away down the twilight street, holding to Lissy's hand, limping on sore feet, Johnnie stood long on the porch in the dark with gusts of rain beating intermittently at the lattice beside her. Her hands were wrung hard together. Her desperate gaze roved over the few scattered lights of the little village, over the great flaring, throbbing mills beyond, as though questioning where she could seek for assistance. Paying money to Pap Himes did no good. So much was plain. She had always been afraid to begin it, and she realized now that the present outcome was what she had apprehended. Uncle Pros, the source of wisdom for all her childish days, was in the hospital, a harmless lunatic. Of late the old man's bodily health had mended suddenly, almost marvellously; but he remained vacant, childish in mind, and so far the authorities had retained him, hoping to probe in some way to the obscure, moving cause of his malady. Twice when she spoke to her mother of late, being very desperate, Laurella had said peevishly that if she were able she'd get up and leave the house. Plainly to-night she was too sick a woman to be troubled. As Johnnie stood there, Shade Buckheath passed her, going out of the house and down the street toward the store. Once she might have thought of appealing to him; but now a sure knowledge of what his reply would be forestalled that.
There remained then what the others called her "swell friends." Gray Stoddard--the thought brought with it an agony from which she flinched. But after all, there was Lydia Sessions. She was sure Miss Sessions meant to be kind; and if she knew that Deanie was really sick--. Yes, it would be worth while to go to her with the whole matter.
At the thought she turned hesitatingly toward the door, meaning to get her hat, and--though she had formulated no method of appeal--to hurry to the Hardwick house and at least talk with Miss Sessions and endeavour to enlist her help.
But the door opened before she reached it, and Mavity Bence stood there, in her face the deadly weariness of all woman's toil and travail since the fall.
Johnnie moved to her quickly, putting a hand on her shoulder, remembering with swift compunction that the poor woman's burdens were trebled since Laurella lay ill, and Pap gave up so much of his time to hanging anxiously about his young wife.
"What is it, Aunt Mavity?" she asked. "Is anything the matter?"
"I hate to werry ye, Johnnie," said the other's deprecating voice; "but looks like I've jest got obliged to have a little help this evenin'. I'm plumb dead on my feet, and there's all the dishes to do and a stack of towels and things to rub out." Her dim gaze questioned the young face above her dubiously, almost desperately. The little brass lamp in her hand made a pitiful wavering.
"Of course I can help you. I'd have been in before this, only I--I--was kind of worried about something else, and I forgot," declared Johnnie, strengthening her heart to endure the necessary postponement of her purpose.
She went into the kitchen with Mavity Bence, and the two women worked there at the dishes, and washing out the towels, till after nine o'clock, Johnnie's anxiety and distress mounting with every minute of delay. At a little past nine, she left poor Mavity at the door of that wretched place the poor woman called her room, looked quietly in to see that her mother seemed to sleep, got her hat and hurried out, goaded by a seemingly disproportionate fever of impatience and anxiety. She took her way up the little hill and across the slope to where the Hardwick mansion gleamed, many-windowed, gay with lights, behind its evergreens.
When she reached the house itself she found an evening reception going forward--the Hardwicks were entertaining the Lyric Club. She halted outside, debating what to do. Could she call Miss Lydia from her company to listen to such a story as this? Was it not in itself almost an offence to bring these things before people who could live as Miss Lydia lived? Somebody was playing the violin, and Johnnie drew nearer the window to listen. She stared in at the beautiful lighted room, the well-dressed, happy people. Suddenly she caught sight of Gray Stoddard standing near the girl who was playing, a watchful eye upon her music to turn it for her. She clutched the window-sill and stood choking and blinded, fighting with a crowd of daunting recollections and miserable apprehensions. The young violinist was playing Schubert's Serenade. From the violin came the cry of hungry human love demanding its mate, questing, praying, half despairing, and yet wooing, seeking again.
Johnnie's piteous gaze roved over the well-beloved lineaments. She noted with a passion of tenderness the turn of head and hand that were so familiar to her, and so dear. Oh, she could never hate him for it, but it was hard--hard--to be a wave in the ocean of toil that supported the galleys of such as these!
It began to rain again softly as she stood there, scattered drops falling on her bright hair, and she gathered her dress about her and pressed close to the window where the eaves of the building sheltered her, forcing herself to look in and take note of the difference between those people in there and her own lot of life. This was not usually Johnnie's way. Her unfailing optimism prompted her always to measure the distance below her, and be glad of having climbed so far, rather than to dim her eyes with straining them toward what was above. But now she marked mercilessly the light, yet subdued, movements, the deference expressed when one of these people addressed another; and Gray Stoddard at the upper end of the room was easily the most marked figure in it. Who was she to think she might be his friend when all this beautiful world of ease and luxury and fair speech was open to him?
Like a sword flashed back to her memory of the children. They were being killed in the mills, while she wasted her thoughts and longings on people who would laugh if they knew of her presumptuous devotion.
She turned with a low exclamation of astonishment, when somebody touched her on the shoulder.
"Is you de gal Miss Lyddy sont for?" inquired the yellow waitress a bit sharply.
"No--yes--I don't know whether Miss Sessions sent for me or not," Johnnie halted out; "but," eagerly, "I must see her. I've--Cassy. I've got to speak to her right now."
Cassy regarded the newcomer rather scornfully.
Yet everybody liked Johnnie, and the servant eventually put off her design of being impressive and said in a fairly friendly manner:
"You couldn't noways see her now. I couldn't disturb her whilst she's got company--without you want to put on this here cap and apron and come he'p me sarve the refreshments. Dey was a gal comin' to resist me, but she ain't put in her disappearance yet. Ain't no time for foolin', dis ain't."
Johnnie debated a moment. A servant's livery--but Deanie was sick and--. With a sudden, impulsive movement, and somewhat to Cassy's surprise, Johnnie followed into the pantry, seized the proffered cap and apron and proceeded to put them on.
"I've got to see Miss Sessions," she repeated, more to herself than to the negress. "Maybe what I have to say will only take a minute. I reckon she won't mind, even if she has got company. It--well, I've got to see her some way." And taking the tray of frail, dainty cups and saucers Cassy brought her, she started with it to the parlour.
The music was just dying down to its last wail when Gray looked up and caught sight of her coming. His mind had been full of her. To him certain pieces of music always meant certain people, and the Serenade could bring him nothing but Johnnie Consadine's face. His startled eyes encountered with distaste the cap pinned to her hair, descended to the white apron that covered her black skirt, and rested in astonishment on the tray that held the coffee, cream and sugar.
"Begin here," Cassie prompted her assistant, and Johnnie, stopping, offered her tray of cups.
Gray's indignant glance went from the girl herself to his hostess. What foolery was this? Why should Johnnie Consadine dress herself as a servant and wait on Lydia Sessions's guests?
Before the two reached him, he turned abruptly and went into the library, where Miss Sessions stood for a moment quite alone. Her face brightened; he had sought her society very much less of late. She looked hopefully for a renewal of that earlier companionship which seemed by contrast almost intimate.
"Have you hired Johnnie Consadine as a waitress?" Stoddard asked her in a non-committal voice. "I should have supposed that her place in the mill would pay her more, and offer better prospects."
"No--oh, no," said Miss Sessions, startled, and considerably disappointed at the subject he had selected to converse upon.
"How does she come to be here with a cap and apron on to-night?" pursued Stoddard, with an edge to his tone which he could not wholly subdue.
"I really don't understand that myself," Lydia Sessions told him. "I made no arrangement with her. I expected to have a couple of negresses--they're much better servants, you know. Of course when a girl like John gets a little taste of social contact and recognition, she may go to considerable lengths to gratify her desire for it. No doubt she feels proud of forcing herself in this evening; and then of course she knows she will be well paid. She seems to be doing nicely," glancing between the portieres where Johnnie bent before one guest or another, offering her tray of cups. "I really haven't the heart to reprove her."
"Then I think I shall," said Stoddard with sudden resolution. "If you don't mind, Miss Sessions, would you let her come in and talk to me a little while, as soon as she has finished passing the coffee? I--really it seems to me that this is outrageous. Johnnie is a girl of brains and abilities, and we who have her true welfare at heart should see that she doesn't--in her youth and ignorance--fall into such errors as this."
"Oh, if you like, I'll talk to her myself," said Miss Lydia smoothly. The conversation was not so different from others that she and Stoddard had held concerning this girl's deserts and welfare. She added, after an instant's pause, speaking quickly, with heightened colour, and a little nervous catch in her voice, "I'll do my best. I--I don't want to speak harshly of John, but I must in truth say that she's the one among my Uplift Club girls that has been least satisfactory to me."
"In what way?" inquired Stoddard in an even, quiet tone.
"Well, I should be a little puzzled to put it into words," Miss Sessions answered him with a deprecating smile; "and yet it's there--the feeling that John Consadine is--I hate to say it--ungrateful."
"Ungrateful," repeated her companion, his eyes steadily on Miss Sessions's face. "To leave Johnnie Consadine out of the matter entirely, what else do you expect from any of your protégées? What else can any one expect who goes into what the modern world calls charitable work?"
Miss Sessions studied his face in some bewilderment. Was he arraigning her, or sympathizing with her? He said no more. He left upon her the onus of further speech. She must try for the right note.
"I know it," she fumbled desperately. "And isn't it disappointing? You do everything you possibly can for people and they seem to dislike you for it."
"They don't merely seem to," said Stoddard, almost brusquely, "they do dislike and despise you, and that most heartily. It is as certain a result as that two and two make four. You have pauperized and degraded them, and they hate you for it."
Lydia Sessions shrank back on the seat, and stared at him, her hand before her open mouth.
"Why, Mr. Stoddard!" she ejaculated finally. "I thought you were fully in sympathy with my Uplift work. You--you certainly let me think so. If you despised it, as you now say, why did you help me and--and all that?"
Stoddard shook his head.
"No," he demurred a little wearily. "I don't despise you, nor your work. As for helping you--I dislike lobster, and yet I conscientiously provide you with it whenever we are where the comestible is served, because I know you like it."
"Mr. Stoddard," broke in Lydia tragically, "that is frivolous! These are grave matters, and I thought--oh, I thought certainly--that I was deserving your good opinion in this charitable work if ever I deserved such a thing in my life."
"Oh--deserved!" repeated Stoddard, almost impatiently. "No doubt you deserve a great deal more than my praise; but you know--do you not?--that people who believe as I do, regard that sort of philanthropy as a barrier to progress; and, really now, I think you ought to admit that under such circumstances I have behaved with great friendliness and self-control."
The words were spoken with something of the old teasing intonation that had once deluded Lydia Sessions into the faith that she held a relation of some intimacy to this man. She glanced at him fleetingly; then, though she felt utterly at sea, made one more desperate effort.
"But I always went first to you when I was raising money for my Uplift work, and you gave to me more liberally than anybody else. Jerome never approved of it. Hartley grumbled, or laughed at me, and came reluctantly to my little dances and receptions. I sometimes felt that I was going against all my world--except you. I depended upon your approval. I felt that you were in full sympathy with me here, if nowhere else."
She looked so disproportionately moved by the matter that Stoddard smiled a little.
"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I see now that I have been taking it for granted all along that you understood the reservation I held in regard to this matter."
"You--you should have told me plainly," said Lydia drearily. "It--it gives me a strange feeling to have depended so entirely on you, and then to find out that you were thinking of me all the while as Jerome does."
"Have I been?" inquired Stoddard. "As Jerome does? What a passion it seems to be with folks to classify their friends. People call me a Socialist, because I am trying to find out what I really do think on certain economic and social subjects. I doubt that I shall ever bring up underneath any precise label, and yet some people would think it egotistical that I insisted upon being a class to myself. I very much doubt that I hold Mr. Hardwick's opinion exactly in any particular." He looked at the girl with a sort of urgency which she scarcely comprehended. "Miss Sessions," he said, "I wear my hair longer than most men, and the barber is always deeply grieved at my obstinacy. I never eat potatoes, and many well-meaning persons are greatly concerned over it--they regard the exclusion of potatoes from one's dietary as almost criminal. But you--I expect in you more tolerance concerning my peculiarities. Why must you care at all what I think, or what my views are in this matter?"
"Oh, I don't understand you at all," Lydia said distressfully.
"No?" agreed Stoddard with an interrogative note in his voice. "But after all there's no need for people to be so determined to understand each other, is there?"
Lydia looked at him with swimming eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me not to do those things?" she managed finally to say with some composure.
"Tell you not to do things that you had thought out for yourself and decided on?" asked Stoddard. "Oh, no, Miss Sessions. What of your own development? I had no business to interfere like that. You might be exactly right about it, and I wrong, so far as you yourself were concerned. And even if I were right and you wrong, the only chance of growth for you was to exploit the matter and find it out for yourself."
"I don't understand a word you say," Lydia Sessions repeated dully. "That's the kind of thing you used always to talk when you and I were planning for John Consadine. Development isn't what a woman wants. She wants--she needs--to understand how to please those she--approves. If she fails anywhere, and those she--well, if somebody that she has--confidence--in tells her, why then she'll know better next time. You should have told me."
Her eyes overflowed as she made an end, but Stoddard adopted a tone of determined lightness.
"Dear me," he said gently. "What reactionary views! You're out of temper with me this evening--I get on your nerves with my theorizing. Forgive me, and forget all about it."
Lydia Sessions smiled kindly on her guest, without speaking. But one thing remained to her out of it all. Gray Stoddard thought ill of her work--it carried her further from him, instead of nearer! So many months of effort worse than wasted! At that instant she had sight of Shade Buckheath's dark face in the entry. She got to her feet.
"I beg your pardon," she said wanly, "I think there is some one out there that I ought to speak to."