WHEN A GIRL'S THIRTY
The Ugly Duckling in a new guise—but whereas, in the time-honored fable it was nature which brought about the transformation, here it was something more dramatic.
CONSTANCE KERR SISSONS
HAMILTON’S credulous blue eyes vibrated between Charlotte Glendon’s animated face and the January landscape seen through her living-room windows. That perfect, though short-lived, fragrant Canadian winter afternoon, was fast fading away. Passers-by, the radiance from the west streaming into their faces, pressed briskly against the icy breeze which whipped brain and sinew to the highest pitch of conscious living. In the trampled snow of the lawn the three Glendon children romped with the more abandon, as their outing drew to its close. A trio of young women, passing, waved to them.
“There go the Carson girls,” pursued Charlotte, poking a lazy fire till it cast wavering gleams across her matronly features. “Three of them, all over thirty, and not a man in sight! And there’s Miss Singleton—well, perhaps she’s quite completely shelved—but look here, Ham, don’t go! I’m on my pet hobby, and I must ride it! Here in Milverton there are simply dozens of girls, the very nicest sort of girls, fit to make wives and mothers who would measure up to the best in the nation, and what does the future hold for them?”
Hamilton shifted one irreproachable boot, pulled at the knee of his trousers, cleared his throat—and subsided. No need for speech after all! Let Charlotte gallop along on her hobby.
“It’s such an awful pity,
Ham. There aren’t enough men to go around! And, at that, some of the men aren’t taking their duties seriously.
Oh, I’m not trying to prod you, Ham. Everyone knows you’re an impossibility.” She colored slightly. “I mean, you’re forty, at least, I suppose—”
“Forty-two,” ejaculated Ham, hastily.
“And absolutely settled in bachelor ways. A few bachelors are a real necessity, help to make things go socially—and you’re simply invaluable just
as you are. But well now, think of the Carsons and Dottie Blake, and Evelyn Pollard—and Chrissie—and all the others. It makes my heart ache! All those lovely girls, beginning to fade, slowly aging—white hair and wrinkles coming—and not the dignity of wifehood or the sweetness of motherhood. No homes of their own to brighten no ” Her voice sank as her gaze fastened on the fire, unseeingly.
Hamilton’s teritler heart responded. He wished he could marry ’em all, immediately—it was rummy, Charlotte was right—it was downright rummy. If he wasn’t such a blithering idiot, somebody might, of course —or he might—hang it all!
A girl of uncommon physique, with large definite features, hurried by, skates over her arm, sporting toggery accentuating the glow of her cheeks and the ease of her bearing.
“And Mabel Findlay, queen of the whole bunch, for health and brains and beauty!” Charlotte’s eyes followed the swinging figure out of sight. “Mabel was thirty-four last week,” she sighed—“and Ham!”— “Ye—es?”
“I don’t believe she’d mind in the least my telling you, she’s such a blunt girl, almost, well you know—” “Sort of unapproachable, isn’t she? Never get farther than the weather with her myself, though I’ve known her all her life.”
“Well, indifferent . . . And brainy.”
“Too superior, if you ask me.”
“Not altogether, if you know her . . . But what I was going to say was that she owned up—no, no, she fairly boasted that no man ever made her an offer.”
“That so?” Ham watched his hostess’ little shoe drumming on the fender. “Well, she certainly is a humdinger. Handsome as the dickens. . . . But it would take a lot of pep—”
CHARLOTTE’S mind was conscious of inner conflict. It was time to rap on the glass to round up Betty
and the twins, yet there were ideas taking shape--
She pushed back the lace of her sleeves suddenly. “Ham! I’ve been studying applied psychology lately—”
“And I’m getting an insight into the men—the mental processes of others. See here! Mabel’s determined not to marry. She swears it up and down. Can’t abide the idea. But don’t you think—”
“That even to a strong-minded girl like that, determined to remain single, there might be some slight satisfaction in having had an offer to—to turn down?” “Mellow the rare old spirit?” interpolated Ham. “Soothe the highbrow solitude?” He arose, adjusting his cuffs, and shaking out his faultless attire.
Charlotte caught the tip of one of the gloves he held between his hands.
“Look here, Ham—can’t you?”
“Mabel would be certain to turn you down. But just to have had a proposal, I believe it would have a—a—softening effect on her character.”
Ham was perfectly willing to afford Mabel’s character any lubrication that a proposal might supply, provided, of course, that she did not accept him, and not in his wildest dreams could he imagine the superior Miss Findlay accepting him. Easily influenced, anxious to oblige, and hypnotised by Charlotte’s direct gaze, he felt himself weaken.
“But you could, Ham, just as easily as not—at the Bal Poudre next week. Like a dear
—I tell you—she’d never.....”
“She despises me?”
“No, no—I never heard her mention you, in such a way at least.”
“But I don’t know the ropes,” laughed Ham in his vacillating manner. “How did Douglas do it?—”
Gusts of air near the zero point blew in vipon the conversation, and the caller, hastily making his adieux, encountered the Glendon children and their tall father struggling with snow-clogged clothing in the vestibule. Doug’s thumpin-the-back greeting, always sent Ham out with a sense of the basic warmth in human nature.
He trudged towards the West, thoughtfully. “Some kids, those of Charlotte’s,” he mused. “Never saw rosier cheeks in my life. . . . Say, it is a rum pity, all those jolly girls whacking typewriters and doing business stunts, year after year. . . . Mabel may be stony as the dickens, and a reg’lar navy-bluestocking— but what a rip-snorter of a mother she’d make! . . . simply breathes health and sanity and all that sort of thing! . .
There was only a golden arc now left of all the glories of the winter sun—like a lucent gateway under a gray canopy which had spread suddenly over the whole zenith. Snow to-morrow! Hamilton Sanders (familiarly known as the Ham Sandwich) pushed on toward the gleam, his blood tingling to the call of the wind, his inconsequent brain still brooding. There was nothing tortuous, nothing sharply defined in Ham's character. His mental make-up owned no disconcerting curves of originality, nor yet any strong convergent lines that clashed suddenly together into angles of determination. In fact “coming to the point” in any particular had been Ham s difficulty through life. He was all there, as it were, on the surface, plain as a pikestaff, his aims little short parallelisms that anyone could see were perfectly honest, perfectly ingenuous, but they got him nowhere. And, as for brains, he owned just a good, kind, limited, unambitious bit of gray matter that realized the duties of life as they presented themselves and, under adequate direction, did a satisfactory day’s work every twenty-four houre. That was Ham.
So he held a rather inferior clerkship in the mercantile world—and was content. The teeming benevolence of his nature, which, through lack of vision or constructive thinking, frittered itself away in social amenities and spasmodic acts of ill-judged charity, might have worked some miracles in Milverton. How could Ham have suspected that as an altruist he waa nothing less than a genius? He had lived always in the moment, and had never learned to regard humanity in the lump. And the large heart of him made him hail-fellow-well-met with the whole town, from the children who adored him, to the ancients who could recall hia small boyhood, and still traded on his cheerful credulity.
He had small private means which raised his income to a fairly respectable status, and owned a large old house out the River Road, in the best district of Milverton, where he had been born and had lived until the death of his mother a few years back. His footsteps led him now, as often, to the gate of the old dwelling, rented now to strangers and resounding to the shouts of a new generation of youngsters. . . . Ham loved to stand there in the dusk, fancying that the lights in the familiar windows were the lights of home. Thirty-odd years ago that sled on the driveway might have been his, and the straw protectors on the rose trees might have been placed there by his mother’s hand! . . .
“That’s where Father put up the swing, around behind the lilac-bushes,” he thought, peering into the shadows, and peopling the spot with the denizens of bygone times. “Jolly old place!” sighed Ham, remembering when Mabel Findlay used to make maple-leaf chains in the shady seat under the syringa, and how she had pouted one day because he had admired Charlotte Stowell’s daisy-crown more than hers. Charlotte had been a little nearer his own age, and when they had both been in their twenties he had—well, just almost— come to the point! But Douglas Glendon had breezed in from Galterville. . . . The wind lost its sharpness almost within a moment, and out of the dull sky fell a few heavy flakes. Ham trudged back to his bachelor quarters.
' I 'HE only social event of a more frivolous character which Mabel Findlay included in her yearly programme was the annual Bal Poudre of the Milverton Golf and Country Club. Some of the more malicious among the younger set averred that Mabel patronized the event because she owned the best Louis Quinze costume in town. It is true that she wore the same thing year after year without deigning to alter it in the least, but the fact did not lessen its distinction nor mar the rare dignity and beauty of the clearcut profile under the high-piled white coiffure. As she made her entrance on this particular evening, she passed Hamilton Sanders who was, as usual, the centre of a flock of vivacious flappers and a target for their exclamation points.
"Oh, Uncle Ham,” (frequent appellation for him
among the younger set), “do take Stella and me down to the Falls for the tobogganing next week, won’t you?” And “Hammy, you’re simply splendiferous to-night!” . . . “Say, girls,” trilled a slim little blonde, just as Mabel’s eyes swept the group, “just look at Ham in his new costume. He’s the very image of Rudolph Valentino in that spangly suit he wore in the last act of ‘Beaucaire’!”
With a curl of the lip Mabel passed on. Idiot! Her glance sought to wither him, but Ham in a good humor was quite impregnable.
Later he discovered her sitting, as often before, among the elderly crew who came out to see the sight from small galleries overlooking the dancing-floor. She was talking, as might have been expected, to old Dr. Hodgins, under whom she was taking up some post-graduate work in her chosen course of economics, and her handsome figure in its heavily-embroidered gown of rose-colored velvet with the rhinestone buckles, the chiffons, powder and patches made so striking a contrast to the appearance of her withered companion that Ham paused for a moment, unseen. Was there the faintest sign of wistfulness in those usually self-possessed gray eyes? His heart gave a thump. Should he do it? Could he brave it out? Perhaps Charlotte was right. In after years Mabel could say to herself, “Well, at least poor old Ham proposed to me—of course he was absolutely impossible, but—”
He drew her into a small alcove filled with palms and plants, from which the brilliance of the scene was most striking. Mabel rested her elbow on the railing and her chin on her hand.
“Isn’t it gorgeous, Ham?—I only come to see it, for I’m not one with any of them. I think it’s the white hair that attracts me. Seen from above it looks like a moving sea of snow with patches of brilliant color forever boiling out from underneath. And then to see the men in something really graceful and dignified—for once. How many vivid blues there are to-night! You, yourself, Ham”—her tones were unusually gracious—her large eyes dwelt on him—-“You’re very splendid. But all Milverton puts its best foot forward for this affair.”
Hamilton nodded silently, and Mabel’s quick curiosity
was aroused. Just what had come over him? He had asked her twice during the past week to skate with him at the Rink, and she had been nothing loth, for her private ambition had always been to get him to assist her in figure skating, an accomplishment in which Ham excelled.
So she scanned him curiously:
“Not indulging in reflection for a change?”
Ham’s Adam’s apple lurched awkwardly. Could one try to be jocose?
“Mabel!” he essayed.
“Your servant!” she cried lightly.
“Mabel, I’ve never yet been refused—”
“No one ever gives you the cold shoulder, Ham.” “But you don’t comprehend. I mean that no girl has ever turned me down when I asked her to marry
“Then—the obvious inference is that you never proposed!”
Ham’s smile was a trifle sickly. He could not finesse. “Perhaps you’re right—but don’t you think it might —sort of buck you up—to hand me the jolly old mitten, you know? You could always say: ‘Well, poor old fish, he asked me to marry him, any way—I’ll give him credit for that much sense!’ Couldn’t you?”
Mabel sat up straight, and a gasp parted her lips. “Hamilton Sanders, are you asking me to marry you?” Ham nodded vigorously.
MABEL gathered herself together to deliver a smashing negative, when—on so slight a thread do our destinies hang!—she caught sight of Charlotte Glendon below, standing back a little in the shadow, but gazing directly towards them—and her quick mind instantly scented a conspiracy. The amused but unmistakable feeling of gratification that had crossed her mind in the moment that she was framing her refusal changed to a bitter flood of rage and scorn. Her voice as she replied was strangely low, clear and cutting, but it was cutting in a way that was too subtle for the mentality of her victim.
“I understand you, Hamilton. You are not asking me to marry you. You are asking me to refuse you!”
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 17
He strove miserably to register a jocular affirmative—then a serious negative . .. It was all beyond him.
“But I do not refuse you, Hamilton. I accept you! . . . Shall we go below? The honor you have done me is one in which my friends must share.”
“Oh, I say, Mabel!” gibbered Ham, his commonplace features growing quite ashy under the powdered wig, and his athletic limbs trembling—for an instant only; then he recovered himself, offered his gold satin arm with the lace ruffles to the jewelled lady at his side, and guided her to the scene below.
The tigress was very near the surface in Mabel, but she could not but admire her companion. Generations of breeding came to his aid. As always, the gentleman will out. He looked almost like his old grandfather, the Judge, long since departed, as he announced his good fortune to his friends and hers, the Milverton dowagers, the elderly coterie of onlookers, the flock of flappers, and several young married couples who were just leaving the hall. Among the latter were the Glendons, and Charlotte’s amazed face was not lost upon Mabel, nor was the sudden movement she made as though to draw Hamilton behind a pillar for a moment’s conference. The latter had made no gesture of comprehension.
“He’s game!” thought Mabel, with a tiny thrill, as she entered the taxi he had called, and the door closed upon them.
Through the clear night air came the voice of the blonde flapper to her pals. "Oh, girls, did you ever?"
MABEL defended herself, as she reviewed the situation several days later . . . “Poor chap! Well he deserved it! I gave him a pretty bad quarter of an hour-—and now I’ll give him an atrocious quarter of a year. Let’s see—up to about Easter—then he may have his freedom!” She winced a little. The situation did not suit her pride. Besides she was very busy with occasional secretarial work added to her constant study. She could ill afford the time to give Hamilton Sanders a lesson, but a lesson he must have, and so must Charlotte Glendon!
She began by taking Ham about to occasional clubs and lectures of the “highbrow” group to which she belonged. She hoped they would bore him—and they did—utterly. She put him through his mental paces, unmercifully ignoring the effect he produced upon the learned element. “All his own fault!” she would reflect angrily, when he made a worse faux pas than usual . . . She tested out his scanty vocabulary with shameless vigor, and poked holes in his logical faculties without turning a hair . . . And she avoided tete-a-tetes with him in a systematic manner, claiming she had no time for her former recreation at the rink or on the hills—and this was an act of real self-sacrifice on Mabel’s part, for she was an outdoor girl. She took no pains to disguise the first signs of age which appeared in her comely countenance; she wore her clothes with more than usual carelessness. If the contrast she made with the flapper element were too severe—well—let Ham have it where it hurt! His own hair was growing very thin on top, anyway! . . . So she pulled the strings, and the puppet danced.
And Hamilton? The strange truth is that Hamilton was not unhappy. Could it have been that even shoving him into an apparently decisive step had transformed him? He squared his shoulders when he walked, as he frequently did, out the River Road, and passed the old homestead in its snowy setting. In conversation with his friends he somehow felt an added importance which betrayed itself in more careful, clearer speech, in an effort to hold his own mentally—for had not the beautiful, the clever, Miss Findlay accepted him? Strange how the situation grew on him! He was surely no longer an aimless atom; he was a unit in the town, in the country. He read his Globe more faithfully, and dropped the light magazines for a review. Sometimes he even visited the Reference Library!
Yet there were certainly moments when the inconsequence of his former position tantalized him. He had dropped his easy intercourse with the Glendons, fearing that Charlotte might provoke confidences of which he would repent, and none of the
new group to which Mabel introduced him seemed to feel like thumping him on the back, or jollying him along with hot tea and water-ice wagers in front of a flickering fire . . . On the contrary!
A climax was reached one foggy February evening when, on the way with Mabel and one of Milverton’s clever ladydoctors to a club debate, he had become “all balled up” about the League of Nations, and said he could never remember anyway what Johnny happened to be premier of France for the moment.
“And as for the dagoes,” he had continued, feeling reckless in his sudden revolt, “the whole bally lot of ’em—but Mabel had nudged him into a rueful silence.
The debate, which dealt exhaustively with the subject of government interference in the question of a rent combine, had left him feeling dazed and blue, so after seeing Mabel to her door and returning into the mist, he slunk dejectedly along the street, occasionally hitting the icecovered hedges vicious little blows with the point of his umbrella. The lady-doctor, who had annexed a friend of the opposite sex on the walk home, appeared to be diagnosing his mental status for the benefit of her companion. He heard her voice distinctly through the fog whch enveloped him.
“Why did she accept him? Nobody knows. Mabel’s always had an unaccountable streak . . . But why she should choose to marry a moron—”
“It certainly is a poser,” the male voice had replied.
Ham had a sudden inspiration. It was not so very late—a quarter to ten, to be exact—-and just across the road lived Dr. Hodgins, Mabel’s guide, philosopher and friend. Supposing he laid some of his recent difficulties before the fussy old duck? A good hearted chap he was—might put a fellow wise to a thing or two, and not be unkind enough to laugh at him either!
So old Professor Hodgins, nearly eighty and very affable—though for the moment somewhat amazed—took Hamilton into his warm study, and incidentally into his yet warmer heart.
THE visitor went straight to the point, a feat which—though he failed to realize it—he would not have been able to perform before his rather unforeseen betrothal to Mabel Findlay. In less than five minutes all the cards were on the table, and Ham’s difficulties lay revealed. Dr. Hodgins took him in hand with a few preliminary explanations which seemed almost at once to begin to let in the daylight. He was a master of that stark simplicity of language which slays ignorance as David’s pebble slew the giant Goliath.
“I begin to see,” murmured Ham. “I begin to understand. If I weren’t such a duffer!”
“But you aren’t a duffer,” urged Dr. Hodgins. “Upon my word, I believe you are the victim of an inferiority complex. You have grasped everything I have said with fair ability. Man, how can you expect to know, if you neither read nor observe? If you bend your energies towards looking into these larger questions—these matters which interest Mabel—you will find that you have laid hold of a subject which you may apply in a hundred useful ways to the everyday problems of society and citizenship.”
“Let me have that list of books, will you?” asked Ham, his eyes brightening.
“Certainly; a few simple pamphlets at first, and soon you will have a working idea . . . Why, it’s a fascinating study, Sanders. I envy you having it all before you. And a man in your position, a business man, can do so much more with the practical side of it, than a mere student, such as I have been all my life. You don’t need to go into the scientific aspect too deeply. Here in Milverton—right here in your own business—are all sorts of problems to which you should be able to apply the principles which have been worked out by the thinkers. Thinkers aren’t often doers, you know, but doers must really think occasionally.” He smiled.
Ham rose, apologizing for the lateness of his call, and thanking the old man warmly.
The Professor shook his hand and offered help, should difficulties arise . . . Ham glanced through the glass of the
street-door into the night. The fog was slowly dissipating under a light wind, and the mists in his mind were rising too.
He paused a moment. “Oh, I forgot! One more question, Dr. Hodgins—What is a—‘moron’?”
The old man laughed.
Ham cleared his throat. “I looked into the dictionary on your desk, while you were getting those ¡books—”
“My old one? You wouldn’t find it there. It is a term recently much used since psychological fools took to inventing intelligence tests.”
“It denotes a person in whom development became stationary somewhere before the age of adolescence.”
“Phe-e-ew!” Ham’s long, low whistle ended in a convulsion of laughter, in which Dr. Hodgins joined, though but dimly discerning its cause.
“There can’t be much wrong with a man who laughs like that—as I suspect, as his own expense,” mused the sage, watching Sanders’ burly figure disappear into the night.
AND SO it came about that “all that rot” in which Mabel was so immersed began to emerge out of the shadow cast by Ham’s own ignorance into the semblance of something having shape and attraction. . . . The blonde flapper assured her friends that Ham slept with a dictionary under his pillow, for had not the bank teller who shared his bachelor quarters spread the fact abroad? Poor Ham! He was the butt of many a joke in those days.
Yet even in the first irritation that he caused his intended bride one fact stood out to the attention of all concerned. Most deeply was Mabel sensible of it, and occasionally it gave her an incipient thrill. He never once failed her in the essentials. Stupid he might be, slow, inconsequent; but unkind, underbred, inconsiderate— never! He was ever “the verye parfait gentil knighte” of Chaucer; the honest gentleman, single of heart, and clean of spirit—the affianced, if not the lover, of the clever Miss Findlay. Was it possible that it might become a pleasant thing some day to have these qualities to lean upon? The thought just passed her mind one afternoon when the high wind of late February invited the two out for one run on their snowshoes before the spring thaws set in.
They trudged far out in the open to where a railway bridge spanned the river, Ham delighting in the brisk, even motion of their stride, and happy in the serene poise of Mabel’s perfect profile. She would so seldom give him such a pleasure as this! . . . Suddenly, as it were from nowhere, Mabel’s pet spaniel appeared, running past them on to the ties of the bridge, and almost instantly dropping through them to a part of the substructure from which he was afraid to make the jump to earth.
It required a long trial of supreme patience and gentleness on the part of Hamilton to free the little animal, and Mabel almost marvelled at the persistence of his effort, and the sure instinct he seemed to possess when it came to effecting a rescue, as to the best method of attack. Utterly weary herself, she called to him to desist for awhile, when he came back, aching but triumphant, with the dog in his arms.
“Ham! You must be nearly dead! And my dear boy, your hand—your hand is bleeding!”
“It’s nothing, Mabel,” puffed Ham, breathlessly. “You love the little beggar
Only a trivial incident perhaps, but Mabel’s heart was still warm with the recollection of it when Ham appeared that same evening and announced that he had no wish to interrupt, but just for a moment, if she would look at something— They were alone in the Findlay livingroom, the austerity of which was somewhat relieved by Ham’s last offering of flowers.
With bandaged fingers he undid a small box of faded, violet velvet, lined, with white, and disclosed a superb old emerald ring set in square fashion with a cluster of tiny diamonds.
“It was my mother’s,” whispered Ham, huskily, holding it under the lamp with loving care. “It has been long delayed at the jeweler’s. The setting had to be repaired. Mabel, do you recall it?” Mabel recalled it—on the frail, white hand of
Ham’s invalid mother. Oh, yes, she could even recall it on that same hand when its owner was in the prime of life, and dispensed thin cookies and raspberry vinegar on the old-fashioned verandah of the big house out the River Road.
Suddenly she burst into tears. “Ham, I can’t take it—my dear boy!—your mother’s ring! It means too much.”
Not daring to offer an endearment, Hamilton gently touched her bent head.
“If you will not wear it, Mabel—-will you keep it anyway? Some day you may feel like putting it on—and Mabel, I’ve never asked you—when? In the summer? not till Fall? You have so many plans, my dear. Do any of them include me? Am I standing in your way, or—”
“Hamilton!” exclaimed Mabel, with a sudden return of her usual vigor and firmness, “will you let us wait till Easter to make any plans? I can’t think about it even, until then. But I promise you at Easter-time we’ll straighten everything out.”
“—I might have let him off this very evening,” she reflected ruefully as she opened the little velvet case in the solitude of her own room, and the tears were again welling under her eyelids, “but, the fact is that I owe Ham Sandwich a debt. I shall keep him captive just six weeks longer, but only so that I can repay a little of what he has taught me.” She sat in humbled attitude on the edge of her bed, with the ring in her hand, not venturing to put it on.
“I can’t understand it,” she murmured brokenly, “—what induced him to make me that queer offer—but knowing him as I do now, I would stake my life upon it that he did so from no mean motive. To think that I should have lived to find that I had much to learn from Hamilton Sanders! But what he has given to me I shall repay!” She sprang from the bed, and stood in heroic attitude before the mirror, heedless of the striking picture she made under the bright light.
“I hereby swear,” she raised her right hand, “that from now to Easter I shall devote myself—devote myself, to Ham. No more doling out stingy little favors to him. No matter if everything else goes to the wall. Ham will have something to carry out of this odd relationship of ours. I refuse to be the only gainer.” And she kept her word.
APRIL was three days old when the heads of Hamilton’s firm conferred over some proposed improvements, the details of which lay on the desk before them.
“Did you say,” inquired the acting manager, “that Sanders workçd out this remarkable scheme on his own initiative? If so, why has he been just a mere underling, you might say, these twenty years?” “I suspect,” interpolated the secretary, “that we have to thank that fiongsay of his—she’s not so very ‘mere.’ What that girl doesn’t know about the economic situation, is not worth knowing.”
“You’re on!” broke in the assistant treasurer. “Sanders tells me that she has helped him to make a regular study of the business and its needs. A singular pair they are, surely. You see them everywhere together. And since she adopted him, so to speak, he has broadened out wonderfully. There must have been more substance in the man than we thought. He can make a fairly decent speech now; has something worth saying and that gives him confidence. They’re even talking of him as the next president of the Canadian Club.”
Quite without knowing it, the secretary had done Hamilton an injustice. It was perfectly true that the “devotion” to which Mabel had sworn herself had taken the practical form of a proposal that she might prove of assistance to him in his business affairs. Yet it was equally true that when she brought her shrewd and eager mind to bear on the subject, she was surprised almost to amazement at the intelligence with which Ham met her first enquiries. He had gained a working knowledge of the principles controlling wages, interest, taxation, and other matters, which very soon let the cat out of the bag as regards his impulsive call on Dr. Hodgins. And moreover, his social proclivities stood him in good stead—for when the abstract narrowed down to the concrete, and details were under discussion, Ham knew all the characteristics of the members of the firm, and their business associates, like a book. Mabel
began to feel that what material help she had rendered him, had decidedly failed to counter-balance the service he had done her by, all unconsciously, bringing home to her the fact that she was egotistic, supercilious and cold
While the executive debated in secret conclave, Mabel and Hamilton sat with other guests around a luncheon table spread for a party of those interested in inspecting the new power development on the river. It was the Saturday preceding Easter Sunday, and the fresh spring air penetrating the new plant, together with the sunshine and the daffodils adorning the improvised tables, set every heart and tongue in accord with the rising tide of the incoming season. Nobody attempted to “rag” Hamilton now; nobody, that is, but Mrs. Wade, the wife of an electrical engineer, an over-smart, lady who got a swift reward for her pains. Mabel was never off her guard, and it would be a sharp antagonist who worsted her in a verbal battle. But a still better, though tacit, rebuff was administered by Sanders himself, when he rose to make a fewsuggestions regarding the inducements which Milverton might offer to new industries desiring to make use of the power. He spoke clearly and emphatically, and though he never could get aw'ay from colloquialisms, they seemed to accord with his honest, sensible remarks. Mabel actually felt proud of him.
She had never probed into her feelings any more than she had speculated about his. They were excellent pals—but, no doubt, he would be glad to be free. At Easter-time, then. To-morrow, of course! Something tightened slightly around her heart . . . Absurd! Of course she would never marry—and Ham—must certainly—. That new grey suit of his, with the narcissus in the buttonhole wasn’t turning her head? No, no, her feeling was utterly-—maternal—
THE luncheon over, and the party dispersing over the works, Hamilton took a new delight in the sight of the mammoth machinery waiting the final touch to spring into action. Altogether, it was a good old world. It was a good old town, full of promise, full of opportunity. There were scores of fascinating plans in sight, improvements to be made here and there . . . Why had he never before felt this pleasant urge of citizenship? It was like the entrance upon a heritage, long-delayed but all the more moving. An affectionate glance towards Mabel was intercepted by a sharp convulsion in the throng . . . Something wrong below?
A gateway had given in the spring flood, and Mrs. Wade, the over-venturesome, had been carried out into the stream upon some rafted logs which the waters had wrenched free. It was too far to jump. Good Heavens! If she were carried into the race!
Ham never faltered. Off came his coat, in spite of Mabel’s vehement protests.
“I must, Mabel!”
“Let Wade go!”
“Poor beggar — his heart’s bad,” breathed Ham, and was gone.
The minutes passed like hours to Mabel, who now fully realized for what her af-
fianced stood in her life. She hid her eyes, as he made his perilous way along tiny ledges, and jumped from one floating object to another, testing this and that as a resting-place with the aid of a long pole. At last he had reached a vantage-point from which he could command the movements of the detached float on which the hysterical woman screamed her mad fear. With infinite strain and caution he manipulated the heavy pole, now drawing, now pushing, until exhaustion nearly overtook him, before help could reach them both. Overcome with the long strain and her wild anxiety, Mabel was too distraught to speak when Hamilton at last stood before her, sound, but for the moment fearfully shaken. They sat, hand-in-hand, until the weakness had passed, and then slowly made their way, followed by the thrilled admiration of the crowd, to an automobile placed at their disposal by the president of the Power Company.
Mabel was still as white as death, and stumbled as she entered the car. “Let him drive me home,” she faltered, shivering so that Ham doubled the rug, and tucked it around her.
They drove in silence along the heavy roads where little rivulets of water tinkled noisily under the swollen ice of the ditches. In Ontario an April sun does strange and sudden things to the landscape. Here, in the shadow, stern winter holds, and a few feet beyond it is melting spring; here a solid snowdrift, and within arm’s reach, where the hot sun has his way, are the spears of tulips showing above the saturated mold.
It was Mabel who first found her voice. “I meant to wait till to-morrow, Ham, but I can’t. I want to thank you a thousand times for all your loyalty and patience . . . And, oh, forgive me for my first cruel blunders. I don’t ask for any explanations about—about the Bal Poudre. No, no! Let me finish! I’d have given you your freedom the night you offered me your mother’s ring, but I wanted to— to repay you for some of the—-lessons I learned from you!”
“Great Caesar’s Ghost!” ejaculated Sanders.
“But you’re free now, Ham—and — and—
“Thanks awfully, darling,” laughed Hamilton, slipping an arm about her under the rug—then drawing back in sudden terror that she might be meaning to dismiss him. One glance at her face set his spirits into an uproarious mood of exultation.
“Driver!” he sang out, rapping sharply on the intervening glass, “take us around by the River Road, to the old white house with the willows behind it! (You’ll see how free I am, Mabel—in about five minutes!) You may drop us there, man. (It’s empty, Mabel!)”
“Have the Smiths left town?” amazedly.
“No, I gave ’em the G.B. about six weeks ago—the night of the ring,” he chuckled, “and they got out, bag and baggage, last week. I’ve been—wait till you see! It’s the jolliest old place, Mabel. I’ll bet—sure they are!—the crocuses are up under the dining-room window!”
He helped her to alight.