GLIMPSES OF THE SUN
One dollar and his aunt’s old Bible: not a legacy that most men would welcome, and yet texts, a girl, and a reasonable amount of common sense, both masculine and feminine, worked wonders in the case of Richard Mason.
EXPOSURE to that curious emotional influenza known as love is constant, one can catch the germ anywhere, yet. though a love story may end with a funeral, as did that of Romeo and Juliet, one seldom begins so. It is presumably a matter of taste.
Death demands the tribute of a muted mood; in its presence a livelier emotion seems neither proper nor precise. As a matter of taste, therefore, and probably of fact, it is neither proper nor precise to suggest that Richard Mason fell in love at his Aunt Mabel’s funeral.
And yet . . .
The afternoon was May at its best; outside the little chapel the sun shone as warmly, as still and as golden, as the candles at the altar within.
The presiding clergyman droned on; he had not known Richard’s aunt and so was reduced to platitudes. Richard, as chief and possibly only mourner, sat with his eyes straight ahead as if in a groove. But he could not keep his thoughts so disciplined. In spite of his efforts, they remained human, fugitive, incongruous. The irrelevancies that come to mind at funerals and will not be exorcised.
This girl who sat beside him, so very still. Richard, without consciously seeing her, was yet conscious of her. Of her bowed head, her hands lying folded in her lap. Young and yet so definitely anything but youthful. Even seated, her dark skirt fell well below her knees, without need of any adjustment. Yet her ankles were slim— almost provocative.
Richard stirred slightly, frowned heavily. Never-
theless: “I wonder if she is really sorry,” his thoughts ran on and, despite himself, considered that unlikely.
She—Jean Sawyer—had been his Aunt Mabel’s companion for almost three years. He had himself inserted the advertisement she had answered. He had selected her from the other applicants and sent her along to see his aunt. She had been rather younger than he might have chosen, save for the steadiness of her gaze, the swift intelligence of her replies to his questions, her very evident competency.
Exactly, he had decided, the companion his Aunt Mabel required. With the strength of youth and yet none of youth’s follies. The sort of a girl whom one simply could not imagine ever powdering her nose. A born companion for elderly women, one might say. A hard life that, he suspected. He knew, anyway—with all respect to what the clergyman was trying to say—that his Aunt Mabel had been no saint and that she must
many times have made life miserable for this little companion of hers.
“I wonder if she left her anything,” his thought ran on. And it occurred to him that if his aunt had not, he must see that this Jean Sawyer got something. A few hundred anyway— enough to carry her over to her next position. And naturally, the best of references.
“She certainly deserves them,” he thought and stole a glance at her. She stirred and, as if without volition,
. her eyes met his. They were wide eyes, exquisitely lashed and shaped. Yet he was less conscious of that surprising discovery than of something definitely arresting and puzzling he glimpsed in their clear depths. She looked half scared, half defiant.
“Good Lord!” he thought, bewildered. “What can—”
But the clergyman had finished, the service was over, the pathetically small group was disintegrating. The doctor who had attended his aunt before she died in a Boston hotel. The lawyer who had handled her affairs, with his wife, who had probably protested against coming. They were, so gathered, symbolical of what his aunts’ life had been these last few years. Of its social impoverishment and futility.
The truest thing that might be said of the dead, he realized suddenly, was that if it had not been for the fact that she had an income of eighteen thousand seven hundred and fifty-eight dollars a year—he knew the precise sum because he had assisted her in putting her capital in what he described as bomb-proof tax exempts— his Aunt Mabel might have been a sweet and kindly old soul.
As it was she had become, as do so many widowed women with money, a suspicious, censorious, caustic martinet, apparently determined not to be pleased with anybody or anything ever. Even—or perhaps especially —her nephew. Richard had long since so realized.
“Sorry,” he had informed Pete Jackson, just three days before, “but I’ve got to meet my aunt. She’s pulling in at three p.m.”
' “But I counted on you for this foursome,” Pete had protested. “You said any afternoon this week would suit you.”
“The old girl wired me just an hour ago,” Richard had explained. “And if I’m not at the station with my hat in my hand—”
“Well, what could she do about it?”
“Cut me off without a penny,” Richard had informed him with cheerful candor. “And she’d do it, too. She leads me a devil of a life. If I don’t show up, she bawls me out, and if I do, she as much as intimates that I’m cultivating her for her money.”
‘Well—aren’t you?” ‘Pete had demanded with the brutal frankness of a friend.
“There certainly ought to be a quid pro quo,” Richard had admitted, unabashed. “Somebody is going to get her money some day and—”
“Why not tell her that you were detained by important business?” Pete had broken in, with the air of one suddenly inspired by an original thought.
“She’d never swallow that,” Richard had assured him. “She has yet to be convinced,
Pete, that bond selling is a business. She wants to see sweat on my brow. ‘Real work’ is a piquant phrase she often uses.
I’m sorry, Pete—some other day.”
This should have settled it. But even as Richard had finished his renunciation, he had punctuated it with a wistful glance at the brilliant May sky. A glance such as Oscar Wilde’s hero, who must die, gave it.
“Pete, don’t push me—I’m slipping,” he had announced. “I—oh, hang it, I’ll chance it. I’ll tell her that it was business—and may heaven help me! The old girl and the Spanish Inquisition have much in common.
I fear the worst.”
For the worst he had been prepared when he presented himself at his aunt’s hotel that night. But not for the news Jean Sawyer had met him with.
“But—but—” he had gasped incredulously.
“One of her heart attacks,” she had explained. “She complained about that and seemed frightened. I called in a doctor and—and her lawyer.
She—she insisted upon making a will.”
To his credit, be it said that Richard did not wonder about the will.
He was discovering a real affection for his Aunt Mabel. No one could call her precisely lovable and her attitude toward him had often been tinged with animosity. Yet she had helped him through college; she was generous. At Christmas and on his birthday—
“She was a good old scout,” was the way all this crystallized in his mind.
And, flippant though it may sound, that was sincere and higher tribute than the clergyman at this, her funeral, had managed to achieve.
TPHE will, however, could not be long ignored. It was A read the morning after the funeral in her lawyer’s office. The latter awaited Richard and beside his desk satJean Sawyer. Richard was momentarily surprised, yet he realized on second thought that she might well have what are euphemistically referred to as “hopes.”
Of her, during the night, he had dreamed. Curiously, fragmentarily. This morning, however, she was surely not the stuff’ dreams are made of.
It seemed to him that she wore precisely the same clothes she had appeared before him in as an applicant three years ago. The same serviceable hat, with not a concession to style, a dress of dark and serviceable material, common-sense shoes and stockings of lisle.
The lawyer proceeded to the will at once. The usual legal preliminaries were disposed of.
To my faithful companion, Jean Sawyer,” the emotionless voice then went on, “the sum of ten thousand dollars outright.”
Richard’s first reaction was purely automatic. Ten thousand! But then . . . “She probably earned it, at that,” he thought sympathetically. And so, with the
swift smile that could be so engaging, he glanced at her. She surprised him anew by what he saw in her eyes as they met his. But:
“To my nephew, Richard Clark Mason,” the dry voice was proceeding, “the sum of one dollar and my Bible, which I hope he will read with benefit to himself.”
Richard’s mouth popped open, but he did not speak, though the lawyer as if fearing interruption pressed on.
“The rest of my estate is to be held in trust for an indefinite period, during which the income is to be paid to the aforesaid Jean Sawyer, in the belief that she will administer it wisely and in accordance with my wishes.”
The lawyer paused and looked over his glasses toward Richard.
“This will,” he explained, “had been drawn up by your
aunt before I arrived. It is most unusual in that final disposition of the estate remains in abeyance indefinitely. A letter, addressed to Miss Sawyer, has been placed in my care, to be delivered to her should she feel the need of further instruction. It is my impression that your aunt fully realized what she was doing, but if you choose to contest the will—”
“I have no such intention,” Richard assured him stiffly. He rose, bowed to Jean Sawyer, nodded to the lawyer and started for the door.
“Your aunt’s Bible,” protested the lawyer, hastening after him.
Richard accepted it, repressing a human rather than irreverent impulse to throw it at him. And it lay on his desk, still wrapped up, when Pete Jackson breezed in at noon, prepared to deliver congratulations. Instead:
“Good Lord,” Pete gasped, “she didn’t cut you off without a penny!”
“Not at all,” retorted Richard drily. “I benefit to the extent of one dollar and her Bible—which I am exhorted to read daily.”
“My eye!” exclaimed Pete. “Who gets the rest?” Richard told him with a clipped brevity.
“Undue influence,” announced Pete promptly. “I’ll bet you can knock that will into a cocked hat, Ricky. Let this rising young barrister have a shot at it.”
“Nothing doing!” said Richard. “I’d look pretty in court fighting a woman.”
“But half a million!” wailed Pete. “Your aunt must have been crazy . . .”
“She wasn’t!” replied Richard flatly. “And I’m not going to try to prove her so. It was her money, anyway. She had a right to do what she wanted with it when you come right down to cases. And that’s—that!”
“All very pretty,” commented Pete, who persisted in seeing the legal phases, “but just think a minute of what you could do with the money—”
“Ifbegin to suspect,” Richard assured him candidly, “that I’ve been thinking too much about that.”
And it had been that realization he had been confront ing when Pete had broken in upon him. He had always spoken of his aunt’s money lightly, almost disparagingly. As a nice little nest-egg that might come to him some day, but nothing that he was absolutely dependent upon, or even counted upon, overmuch.
In a good year, selling bonds on salary and commission, he might net as much as five thousand. In a lean year the amount might drop to three. He could, in either a fat or a lean year, have increased thej; amount measurably, had he been willing not only to sell but to live bonds—eat, drink and dream them as some men in the office did.
This had never seemed necessary. In the first place the pluggers had a pretty dry time of it and there was more*to life than just bonds. Furthermore, he was only thirty. Any time he felt the need of buckling down he could. In the meantime with his salary, commissions and the sizable checks tha.t came from his aunt at Christmas and on his birthdays, he had done himself well enough. Golf, a good club in town, a car, comfortable quarters and what-not.
So much for the present. Beyond that, if he read of a
world cruise in a small schooner, it was with the comfort-
able thought that something like that might be possible for him—some day. And so on, through a long list of desirable things that had challenged his imagination from time to time.
Now, in a little more than two hours, all this was changed. It was, in a way, funny. He admitted it.
“Odd that she left you her Bible,” suggested Pete abruptly. “Let’s have a look at it. It may suggest a clue.” Richard let him have his way.
“It’s full of marked passages,” reported Pete promptly. “Here’s one in Proverbs . . . Ricky, a great light breaks upon me—”
“Maybe,” commented Richard. “But you aren’t shedding any.” “What’s the matter with the old bean this morning?” demanded Pete. “Didn’t you tell me that your aunt disapproved of your not working harder? Well, listen to this. ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise—’ ”
“That hes a reminiscent ring,” admitted Richard. “Still—”
But Pete was turning over pages like a hound on a hot
“Here’s another,” he announced. “ ‘As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.’ ” “I am happier at the moment, with my quiver empty,” Richard cut in. “On my present income,that is—and one dollar instead of—”
“Beautiful but dumb!” apostrophized Pete. “Think, man! Your aunt left you a dollar and her Bible, which she hoped you would read and benefit by. In the meantime the bulk of her estate is held in trust, intact—” “With her faithful companion enjoying the income,” Richard reminded him.
“But your aunt left a sealed letter,” persisted Pete. “I’ll bet anything there’s another will in that, leaving you everything provided—
“Provided I begin to get busy and start acquiring a quiver of arrows?” derided Richard. “The trouble with you, Pete, is that you’ve been seeing too many movies.” “Show me a weak spot in my dope!” suggested Pete aggressively.
“The weak spot,” obliged Richard, “is that the sealed letter you refer to is not to be opened until my aunt’s same ‘faithful companion’ sees fit to—” “Exactly,” Pete broke in. “She’s to wait until she sees the signs in you.”
“And until then she enjoys the income,” Richard reminded him relentlessly. “I don’t want to seem unduly cynical but I have a hunch that it would be rather hard to convince any woman that I had undergone so deep and significant a change of heart that she should give up an income of over eighteen thousand a year!”
“That’s true,” admitted Pete. “Your aunt must have trusted her a lot.” “Obviously,” contributed Richard. “Look here, Ricky, I’m going to see this dame myself—”
“Not as my representative,” said Richard firmly.
“There are other ways,” Pete grinned. “What does she look like?”
Richard told him.
“Ouch,” groaned Pete. “But I’m going to get to the bottom of this just the same.I scent a mystery—see you to-morrow.” But he didn’t. That was Richard’s fault. As Pete departed he picked up the Bible, started to place it in a drawer and then, in spite of himself, opened it. At a marked pasage too.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil (he read): which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
To him that suggested a truer clue to his aunt’s mental processes in making her will than anything Pete had produced. If she believed money to be the root of all evil— The thought was broken off as he read another passage.
“Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.”
That, it seemed to him, ought to have discounted the first verse he had read.
“But, perhaps,” he decided, “she doubted my ability to see the sun—whatever that means.”
It struck him then that this was all profitless, anyway, to a young bond salesman, now very much on his own. He had yet to discover that even a young bond salesman can find in the Bible a consecrated knowledge of man and his works, his habits and prejudices, that can be found, nowhere else, within one cover. Even this brief dip into it was to serve him. But as he put it aside and attacked his mail he did not guess that.
The first letter he read was from a woman to whom he had occasionally sold bonds in the past. She wanted to know if he were going to be up her way soon. Up her way was Northern Vermont, in a little town built around a chair factory her husband had owned as he had owned most of the town.
It was a week before Richard returned. “You’re a hot sketch!” announced Pete. “Where have you been, anyway?” “Playing the provinces,” retorted Richard, in a tone that might have caused Pete to wonder at any other time—it suggested a triumph achieved rather than an ordeal survived. “What’s bothering you—”
“I’ve been trying to get in touch with you. Jean—”
“Jean?” echoed Richard, puzzled. “Oh —you mean Miss Sawyer?”
“Yep-—she lets me call her Jean now,” burbled Pete, blissfully.
“What?” gasped Richard, astounded. The symptoms Pete was revealing were not new. But Richard could not believe he read them aright. Granted that Pete had a flair for feminine entanglements, he demanded a decorative effect in the ladies he permitted to disturb his poise.
“She certainly is a lalapaloosa, Ricky,” Pete added. “She can park her vanity case in my pocket anywhere, any time she chooses—”
“Are you crazy?” demanded Richard. “Vanity case—I’ll bet you ten dollars she never owned one.”
“You lose!” retorted Pete, and flashed a gleaming device of platinum and black enamel. “She let me carry this for her last night.”
“Good Lord!” gasped Richard. “Are you sure you got the right Jean?”
“No doubt about it. She wants to see you before she leaves Boston.”
“Me? But you promised you wouldn’t mention my name—”
“I didn’t. She spotted me at once—you can’t put anything over on that girl, Ricky—and I—I promised you would see her.”
“Nothing stirring!” Richard announced with great finality. “I—”
“All right,” said Peter, hotly. “But you’re a poor sport. You pretend to believe that your aunt had a perfect right to leave her money to anyone she chose but just the same you’re so darned sore that—”
“Sore?” protested Richard indignantly. “I’m not sore.”
“Well—what else can you expect her to think?” demanded Pete.
That gave Richard pause. He considered it a moment. Then: “I’ll see her,” he promised grimly.
“Atta-boy,” applauded Pete. He reached for Richard’s phone. “I’ll fix it up for this afternoon right now.”
It was so arranged, and at four Richard found himself approaching the suite Jean Sawyer now occupied. As he knocked upon the door he was calm, self-assured and prepared for anything. But, as the door opened so did his eyes.
“Miss—Miss Sawyer?” he murmured, doubtfully and inanely.
“So much for new clothes—and a shingle bob!” she commented satirically. “Won’t you come in?”
As he obeyed she took his hat, as she had so often in the past. Yet with a difference. She had been but his aunt’s shadow then. Now—”
“I think,” she said serenely, as if supplementing his thought, “that it is mostly the shingle bob. I approached the moment when it was to be achieved almost prayerfully—but I adore it now!”
“It is an improvement,” he commented, with an effort.
“Pete said that much more prettily,” she retorted. “But I suspect he has had more experience.”
Richard let that pass. He was still striving to comprehend the change in her. A touch of powder on her nose, a dash of color perhaps not her own. Satin-shod' feet and silk-sheathed knees, a shortskirted frock of the prevailing mode. With no more than this she had achieved an incredible result.
She smiled and startled him again. “Don’t you think that it’s as much spiritual as sartorial, really?” she suggested. “How would you feel if you had to wear a cheap suit, an unspeakable hat and an ancient coat? Can you imagine how you’d feel? Well, I feel just the opposite—now.” To that she added before he could answer, “Please sit down.” And did so herself, careless, in the manner of the present generation, in the disposition of her skirt which no longer fell of its own volition below her knees.
“I know you are here under duress,” she went on, “and I’ll try to be brief. But I felt as if I must see you—be sure that you weren’t resentful.”
“Toward you?” he suggested.
“Oh, that wouldn’t matter. I mean toward your aunt. That would be a tragedy. That is why I asked Pete to send you—so that I might try to make you understand how she felt toward you.” “Doesn’t her will cover that?” he suggested.
“Not at all. Have you read your aunt’s Bible yet?”
“I’ve noticed several marked passages,” he confessed.
“Then you have discovered, probably, that she had begun to think of her money as a curse. The idea tortured her. In one way, you see, she wanted you to have her money when she died. In another—she didn’t. When she made her last will she had a premonition that she was dying. I did not believe it then, but to help her—she was so terribly uncertain and bewildered—I made a suggestion.”
She paused, as if giving him chance to comment. He had none to make.
“A foolish suggestion, but she snatched at it,” she resumed. “I had no idea, truly, that it would be final.”
“As it seems to be,” he contributed. “You forget,” she reminded him, “that although I am to receive the income I am supposed to administer it wisely and in accordance with her wishes. And there is still the letter she left, to be opened if I need further instructions.”
“I should say that your instructions seem fairly definite. Money is a bad thing to have. As such it has been handed over to you.”
“But perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. What do I know about it?”
“Supposing,” he suggested lightly, “that you find money is not such a bad thing to have. What then?”
Instead of answering him, she studied him for a second.
“You have changed,” she announced. “Something has happened so that you do not mind not getting your aunt’s money as much as you did . . . Oh, you did— who could help it? But you have found compensation of some sort.”
Richard hesitated, then smiled. “As the daughter of an Episcopal minister,” he retorted, “you may remember the Bible verse that begins ‘Wisdom is good with an inheritance—’ ”
“ ‘And by it there is profit to them that see the sun,’ ” she finished. “But you did not get the inheritance.”
“Yet I have seen the sun,” he assured her, “and I think I can help others to. Isn’t that what an inheritance is for, ‘with wisdom?’ ”
“Don’t you think it would be wiser for me to hold to the belief that money is the root of all evil—really a bad thing for anyone to have,” she retorted, “than to expose myself to all manner of temptations? I plan to travel, anyway.”
“That doesn’t sound so very wicked,” he assured her.
“Oh, it will be no Cook’s tour,” she announced. “I’m going to places like Biarritz, Monte Carlo and the Lido—• don’t the pictures of all-the-world there in its pajamas seem wicked to you, somehow?”
“Not particularly,” he replied. “But then I’m not—”
“An Episcopal rector’s daughter?” she suggested. “That is an awful handicap. Perhaps my inherited inhibitions will prove invincible. And yet—they may be only repressions that will welcome an outlet. Who knows but what with the assistance of some no-account count and a full moon, some night in Venice I may— astonish myself!”
Richard rose, in response to a nebulous impulse that later he decided was pure irritation. But at the moment he masked that under a creditable smile.
“Let my last word be worthy of Pete,” he said. “I feel sure that no one will ever suspect you are the daughter of an Episcopal rector—with inhibitions.” “That sounds nice—or does it?” she murmured thoughtfully.
He did not enlarge upon it—to her. But as he strode down Boylston Street he assured himself that she was, plainly, just a scheming little adventuress who had seen a chance to get his aunt’s money—■ and grabbed it.
And so, coidly, he informed Pete, when the latter demanded a report.
“Well—can you blame her?” retorted Pete placidly. “It must be a devil of a life, trotting around with a lot of self-centred, selfish old women. Of course I don’t mean your aunt, Ricky, was—
“Let’s drop the matter,” suggested Richard austerely.
Pete did so, for the moment. Yet he seemed to believe that Richard might be interested in Jean’s further movements. Anyway he told him when she sailed from New York. And apparently he corresponded with her because he mentioned her whereabouts, from time to time.
London . . . Paris . . . Biarritz
. . .Venice.
Then in July Pete himself abruptly announced that he was going abroad.
Richard did not miss him, as he might have another summer. Golf he had little time for these days. He was too busy. He took his usual month’s vacation in August, but ha passed up the cruise in a sporty little forty footer to which he had been half committed. Instead, he and his car traversed New England. It was not, however, a pleasure trip, though he looked extraordinarily fit when he returned to his desk.
This was in September. He found a letter from Pete enclosing a snap-shot. Of Pete and Jean. Taken on the Lido, both in gay pajamas.
“Wish you were here,” Pete had written, with great originality.
Richard doubted it as he put the snapshot aside and went to the office of the head of the firm, thara to apeak a little piece he had so carefully phrased in his mind.
“But, my dear chap!” gasped the latter, when Richard had finished this. “I realize you have done very well these few months, of course, but even so, you are very young yet. It is possible that the firm, in time, might of its own volition invite you to become a member.”
This Richard doubted. Mightily. The firm was one of the oldest and most conservative in Boston—which is saying much!
“I am, at the moment,” he announced crisply, “trustee in every sense save the legal one, of estates aggregating twenty million dollars. I expect the number to grow until I have at least doubled that amount—”
“And,” Richard went on, “it is as apparent to me as it will be to you that I’ve come to the point where I must either become a member of this firm—or branch out on my own.”
The desk at which the head sat overlooked the street. He glanced out through the window as he often did when digesting a problem.
A taxi stopped below. From it stepped a woman of sixty-five or so, squarely and squatly built. She wore a skirt that cleared the ground by an inch or two on one side, sagged an inch or two on the other. A washwoman would have scorned the hat on her head: she wore a jacket of greenish black, with worn seams, of what had once been known as the Zouave pattern. Now, as always, that jacket sent the banker’s memory back. His mother had worn such a jacket, very smart and new in those days, when he was a boy . . .
“How in thunder did you manage it?” demanded the banker, turning abruptly back to Richard.
“That,” retorted Richard with a smile that was almost a grin, “is the capital I hope to bring into the firm.”
In October he was invited to do so. And so in November, as the youngest member of one of the oldest and most conservative banking-houses in Boston, he had his own department and was as busy a young man as might be found in that city. Far too busy to think, these days, of his aunt’s curious will. Or the letter of instruction that might or might not be opened some day.
And far, far too busy, one might suppose, even to think of Jean Sawyer. But there was that snap-shot Pete had sent him and from which in a moment of impulse he had censored Pete with scissors.
Half a dozen times he had started to throw away the half that portrayed Jean, so shamelessly decked out in silken pajamas.
Indeed it had gone into the wastebasket—once. And as soon as he reached the office ’phoned instructions that his waste-basket was not to be emptied.
Presently his ’phone rang. He took off the receiver and for a second felt as if he were being shot up into space breathlessly.
“This is Jean Sawyer speaking,” announced—needlessly—the voice that came to him. “Your aunt’s companion, in case you have forgotten.”
“Oh, I remember you very well,” he babbled. “I—” He caught his tongue just in time. He had been about to be inane enough to tell her that he had dreamed of her just the night before.
“There must be something the matter with the line,” he heard her protest. “I missed the last of that.”
“I,” he began, and stopped short. The line had gone dead!
“Number-r please,” said another voice, as he jiggled the receiver.
“Number!” he exploded. “I was cut off—a most important call.”
“Hang up your-r r-receiver please,” suggested the voice-with-a-smile, “and I’ll see if I can trace the call for you.”
But the best she could report was that the call had been from the South Station and that perhaps the party would call again.
The party didn’t, although Richard let his luncheon hour pass in case she should. At two-thirty it suddenly occurred to him that she might have gone to the same hotel where he had seen her last. He called. A pause. Yes, Miss Sawyer was registered. They would give him her room. An interminable wait. Then: “I’ve been waiting for you to call back,” he announced aggrievedly. “We were cut off—”
“Really? I thought you hung up,” she retorted. “I realized that I took a chance of being snubbed. But I wanted to see you, on business—”
“I’ll be right up,” he broke in, and hung up.
“Gracious!” she murmured. Whereupon, being feminine, she turned to her mirror. And was reassured.
Whatever experiences she had had abroad had left no devastating mark on her, certainly. She seemed a shade more sophisticated, perhaps, certainly more poised. And yet, at the same time, definitely younger. So much Richard saw in a glance.
“I called you three times this morning before I was permitted to speak to you,” she greeted him with. “And then when I did get you, and you hung up—”
“But I didn’t!” he protested. “We were cut off. I tried to get you.”
“I didn’t know that. So I called up Pete. And do you know I had a feeling he was busy too! He seemed so anything but that last summer in Venice, that I wondered. Can you explain it?”
Richard could—but didn’t. The fact was that Pete had returned from Europe on the same boat with a girl he had known as a deb. two seasons before. Evidently he had believed that travel had improved her, for their engagement had just been announced. And of course, Pete felt abashed at Jean’s return.
“But he did tell me he had hardly seen you since you had been taken into the firm,” she went on. “That took my breath away. Tell me how it happened.”
“Why—I dug up a lot of new business,” he began, taken unawares.
“I really am clever enough to take that for granted,” she assured him. “But—do you know, I have a curious feeling that it all goes back somehow to the trip you had returned from when I saw you last spring just before I sailed. You had been in Northern Vermont—”
“It did start then,” he admitted, “though I don’t see how you guessed.” “Perhaps I am psychic,” she suggested. “Please go on.”
It did not occur to him as strange that she should ask him to—or that he should obey. It seemed rather just what he wanted to do.
“I went up to see a woman I had known for years—as a bond prospect,” he explained, then broke off and frowned thoughtfully. “I wonder if I can make her seem credible to you.
“I went up, intending to sell her as many bonds as I could in the briefest possible time. But when I got there— this is going to sound funny to you I know, but—well, she suddenly reminded me of a verse I had come upon in my aunt’s Bible. I quoted it to you afterwards, I think.”
“ ‘Wisdom is good with an inheritance —and by it there is profit to them that see the sun?’ ” she suggested. And added, “But that doesn’t suggest her to me. I should say her glimpses of the sun were few, if any.”
“That was precisely what struck me!” he assured her. “She wasn’t even living —she was no more than waiting for death to overtake her.” He paused, and then abruptly added, “She asked my advice about a good investment and I—advised her to buy an automobile!”
“Not really!” gasped Jean. “Whatever made you think of such a thing?”
“An automobile had just gone by— and I had seen something in her eyes,” he explained. “It was as if she’d—briefly glimpsed the sun!”
“I wonder you dared—not knowing the condition of her heart,” protested Jean. “Suggesting such a thing to a typical New England widow—or rather ‘relict.’ ” “ ‘Relict’ is the exact word,” he agreed. “And I’m glad you recognize her as typical because it will be easier for you to realize why, after finishing with her, I was keen to experiment with other typical relicts.”
“But we haven’t finished with her! You can’t persuade me that she went right out and bought an automobile. I remember her too well for that! She must have been horrified at the idea of such an extravagance.”
“She was,” he admitted. “Until I asked her point-blank just what her income was. It hung, I knew, on the knees of the gods whether she would tell me. Secrecy had become an obsession with her. Then suddenly she told me. Her income was— guess!”
“Five thousand a year?” hazarded Jean. “Thirty!” he announced. “And she had been living on less than a thousand a year. When her husband died she had come into an income of fifty thousand a year. She was as unfit as a child to handle it. Worse than that, she was literally scared stiff. She had never handled money in her life; she was afraid to ask advice, lest somebody defraud her. She was even afraid to spend money, her hold on it seemed so tenuous. She just tried to hold on— with the inevitable result. Both mentally and financially she was in a tangle.
“Before I got through I did manage to convince her that her investments could be so handled that she could be sure of thirty thousand a year and probably more—and that there was no reason she shouldn’t have an automobile.”
“And so—she bought it and lived happily ever after?” suggested Jean.
He hesitated. Then, almost apologetically, drew a letter from his pocket.
“I received this from her last June,” he said. “I keep it as sort of a talisman—it may answer your question.”
Jean took it, and ran through the prim angular script. There was some comment on investments and the sale of the factory. And then :
“I motored over to Burlington last week and saw my sister-in-law for the first time in almost thirty years. It was most enjoyable and we plan to see much more of each other. She has asked me if it would be possible for you to come and see her some time soon and talk over her investments as you did mine.
“I cannot begin to tell you how much easier my mind has been since our talk. I cannot put it into words but I really feel as if I were living.”
“I begin,” said Jean, returning the letter to him, “to have a new vision of New England. All the ‘relicts’ placing their affairs in your hands, buying automobiles and stepping out generally.” “Nothing so revolutionary!” he protested, with a smile that was a grin. “I’ve had some of the relicts all but turn me over to the police. But I have discovered enough of them could be sold on the idea of investing more money in themselves and less in bonds to make life interesting.”
“And—may I suggest profitable!” “You may,” he admitted. “I really believed when I suggested that my first old lady buy herself an automobile instead of bonds I had done myself out of a needed commission, but the way that worked out and the idea it gave me has developed rather surprisingly.”
“And so—you don’t really need your aunt’s money now?”
“I can get along nicely without it,” he assured her.
“And that is the irony of fate, I suppose,” she murmured. “Here am I torn with temptation. I could use it all so nicely and yet—
“What do you mean?” he broke in. “I only hope,” she answered obliquely, “that you know some particularly sweet and confiding old relict in whom you can plant a desire to see the world. I could show it to her so nicely and competently. As a companion—”
“A companion!” he gasped. “I—”
“I’ll have to let my hair grow again,” she moaned. “And I do so love it shingled. And lengthen my skirts and revert to type generally. Isn’t it awful?”
“Awful,” he exploded. “Why it’s perfect rot!”
She shrugged her shoulders. “You forget your aunt’s letter of instructions,” she replied.
He had, absolutely. He forgot his own possible interest in it now. All that he could comprehend was that she was talking of becoming a companion again. Towing some old woman around—why the idea was preposterous!
“What of it?” he demanded. “You don’t need to open it.”
She rose, and so did he, but without conscious volition.
“But I have!” she said simply.
“What made you do such a senseless thing?” he demanded almost irately.
“The Pandora complex, I suppose,” she retorted frivolously. “Women must open things—don’t you know that? As a pathological salesman you ought to, by now. If it weren’t so, your old ladies
would never have been so tempted—” “When did you open this—this darned letter, anyway?” he broke in.
“This noon—after I had ’phoned Pete. Don’t you want to see it?”
“No!” he all but shouted.
“But it concerns you Your aunt wanted you to have the money—if she could only be sure it wouldn’t harm you. I know that sounds fearfully theatrical, but if you could have seen her and known how troubled and torn she was—”
“I don’t want her money—I won’t take it,” he announced forcibly.
“But her will—the envelope contained a new one.”
“I can fix that up—I’ll transfer the money to you,” he said.
“Tome? Gracious! I did not know that successful men ever became philanthropists—so young. Can’t you see that I could hardly accept it?”
“Why not? Be sensible, please.”
“You sound so sensible!” she mocked. “Wouldn’t the newspapers love it? ‘Renounces half million, insists that aunt’s faithful companion should have it.’ Does that sound sensible to you? How could you ever explain it?”
As she finished her eyes met his. Exquisitely shaped and lashed and, in spite of her mockery, half defiant, half scared.
He took a deep breath—wisely—and swiftly gathered her into his arms. Wisely because he was plunging into breathlessness. She had asked for an explanation, and one had suddenly, dazzingly, been vouchsafed him.
“Can—can you explain this?” he asked huskily, his lips close to hers.
A golden glow pervaded him. He felt as if a thousand sky-rockets had been discharged in his immediate vicinity and, in the general explosion, he had caught at the tail of the largest and soared upwards with it.
Abruptly he returned to earth.
“Ever so easily,” her voice came to him. “I rather deliberately planned it—to see if I could make you fall in love with me.”
Startled, he half released her. “What?” he gasped.
“I had to,” she explained. “As a matter of self-respect. You were such a lordly young male—back in the days when I was your aunt’s companion. And I was so much the humble Christian slave you never really saw. Yet I felt that with clothes and—oh, the other things every woman knows—that I could make you see me. As feminine—not just female.”
He released her altogether.
“Do you mean you did—did this for revenge?” he demanded hotly.
“You sound disapproving,” she replied. “But revenge is very sweet—to say nothing of the luxurious feeling it gives a woman, to know that she can—”
There her voice broke off, her eyes evaded his. And—she was trembling. He realized that and something quickened within him anew.
“Jean,” he beseeched, “are you just being feminine? Perhaps I should be punished but do you think I deserve to be tortured?”
“Tortured?” she flamed. “Don’t you know that when a man looks right through a girl as if she didn’t exist that—that is— torture?”
Sky-rockets were beginning to go off again.
“Not unless she loves him,” he suggested quickly.
“That isn’t true,” she denied as quickly. “Any girl would feel—”
But Richard had her in his arms again, holding her as if he would squeeze the truth from her.
“Isn’t it true—with this girl, anyway?” he implored. “Please, Jean.”
Ever so briefly she wavered. And then, slowly, her eyes came up to his. Lustrous and dilated, so that she seemed all eyes to him.
“Well—perhaps,” she conceded. And added, in a little rush, “But I’ll tell you right now that—that I’ll make you pay for having made me tell you so!”
“I’ll pay through the nose!” he promised with great gladness.
And he began, forthwith. But not, most certainly, through his nose.