ON Friday afternoon Thea Kronborg was walking excitedly up and down her sitting-room, which at that hour was flooded by thin, clear sunshine. Both windows were open, and the fire in the grate was low, for the day was one of those false springs that sometimes blow into New York from the sea in the middle of winter, soft, warm, with a persuasive salty moisture in the air and a relaxing thaw under foot. Thea was flushed and animated, and she seemed as restless as the sooty sparrows that chirped and cheeped distractingly about the windows. She kept looking at the black clock, and then down into the Square. The room was full of flowers, and she stopped now and then to arrange them or to move them into the sunlight. After the bellboy came to announce a visitor, she took some Roman hyacinths from a glass and stuck them in the front of her dark-blue dress.
When at last Fred Ottenburg appeared in the doorway, she met him with an exclamation of pleasure. "I am glad you 've come, Fred. I was afraid you might not get my note, and I wanted to see you before you see Dr. Archie. He 's so nice!" She brought her hands together to emphasize her statement.
"Is he? I 'm glad. You see I 'm quite out of breath. I did n't wait for the elevator, but ran upstairs, I was so pleased at being sent for." He dropped his hat and over coat. "Yes, I should say he is nice! I don't seem to recognize all of these," waving his handkerchief at the flowers.
"Yes, he brought them himself, in a big box. He brought lots with him besides flowers. Oh, lots of things! The old Moonstone feeling,"—Thea moved her hand back and forth in the air, fluttering her fingers,—"the feeling of starting out, early in the morning, to take my lesson."
"And you 've had everything out with him?"
"No, I have n't!"
"Have n't?" He looked up in consternation.
"No, I have n't!" Thea spoke excitedly, moving about over the sunny patches on the grimy carpet. "I 've lied to him, just as you said I had always lied to him, and that 's why I 'm so happy. I 've let him think what he likes to think. Oh, I could n't do anything else, Fred,"—she shook her head emphatically. "If you 'd seen him when he came in, so pleased and excited! You see this is a great adventure for him. From the moment I began to talk to him, he entreated me not to say too much, not to spoil his notion of me. Not in so many words, of course. But if you 'd seen his eyes, his face, his kind hands! Oh, no! I could n't." She took a deep breath, as if with a renewed sense of her narrow escape.
"Then, what did you tell him?" Fred demanded.
Thea sat down on the edge of the sofa and began shutting and opening her hands nervously. "Well, I told him enough, and not too much. I told him all about how good you were to me last winter, getting me engagements and things, and how you had helped me with my work more than anybody. Then I told him about how you sent me down to the ranch when I had no money or anything." She paused and wrinkled her forehead. "And I told him that I wanted to marry you and ran away to Mexico with you, and that I was awfully happy until you told me that you could n't marry me because—well, I told him why." Thea dropped her eyes and moved the toe of her shoe about restlessly on the carpet.
"And he took it from you, like that?" Fred asked, almost with awe.
"Yes, just like that, and asked no questions. He was hurt; he had some wretched moments. I could see him squirming and squirming and trying to get past it. He kept shutting his eyes and rubbing his forehead. But when I told him that I absolutely knew you wanted to marry me, that you would whenever you could, that seemed to help him a good deal."
"And that satisfied him?" Fred asked wonderingly. He could not quite imagine what kind of person Dr. Archie might be.
"He took me by the shoulders once and asked, oh, in such a frightened way, 'Thea, was he good to you, this young man?' When I told him you were, he looked at me again: 'And you care for him a great deal, you believe in him?' Then he seemed satisfied." Thea paused. "You see, he 's just tremendously good, and tremendously afraid of things—of some things. Otherwise he would have got rid of Mrs. Archie." She looked up suddenly: "You were right, though; one can't tell people about things they don't know already."
Fred stood in the window, his back to the sunlight, fingering the jonquils. "Yes, you can, my dear. But you must tell it in such a way that they don't know you 're telling it, and that they don't know they re hearing it."
Thea smiled past him, out into the air. "I see. It 's a secret. Like the sound in the shell."
"What 's that?" Fred was watching her and thinking how moving that faraway expression, in her, happened to be. "What did you say?"
She came back. "Oh, something old and Moonstony! I have almost forgotten it myself. But I feel better than I thought I ever could again. I can't wait to be off. Oh, Fred," she sprang up, "I want to get at it!"
As she broke out with this, she threw up her head and lifted herself a little on her toes. Fred colored and looked at her fearfully, hesitatingly. Her eyes, which looked out through the window, were bright—they had no memories. No, she did not remember. That momentary elevation had no associations for her. It was unconscious.
He looked her up and down and laughed and shook his head. "You are just all I want you to be—and that is,—not for me! Don't worry, you 'll get at it. You are at it. My God! have you ever, for one moment, been at anything else?"
Thea did not answer him, and clearly she had not heard him. She was watching something out in the thin light of the false spring and its treacherously soft air.
Fred waited a moment. "Are you going to dine with your friend to-night?"
"Yes. He has never been in New York before. He wants to go about. Where shall I tell him to go?"
"Would n't it be a better plan, since you wish me to meet him, for you both to dine with me? It would seem only natural and friendly. You 'll have to live up a little to his notion of us." Thea seemed to consider the suggestion favorably. "If you wish him to be easy in his mind," Fred went on, "that would help. I think, myself, that we are rather nice together. Put on one of the new dresses you got down there, and let him see how lovely you can be. You owe him some pleasure, after all the trouble he has taken."
Thea laughed, and seemed to find the idea exciting and pleasant. "Oh, very well! I 'll do my best. Only don't wear a dress coat, please. He has n't one, and he 's nervous about it."
Fred looked at his watch. "Your monument up there is fast. I 'll be here with a cab at eight. I 'm anxious to meet him. You 've given me the strangest idea of his callow innocence and aged indifference."
She shook her head. "No, he 's none of that. He 's very good, and he won't admit things. I love him for it. Now, as I look back on it, I see that I 've always, even when I was little, shielded him."
As she laughed, Fred caught the bright spark in her eye that he knew so well, and held it for a happy instant. Then he blew her a kiss with his finger-tips and fled.