Phil reached home shortly before one, and called her father's name in the hal_ithout eliciting a response. The odor of roasting turkey was in the house, and she noted that the table was set for four. The maid-of-all-work wa_oulding cranberry jelly when Phil thrust her head into the kitchen.
"There's going to be company for dinner," the woman explained. "Your pa cam_n and told me so. He's gone down to his office for a minute."
Phil had not heard that they were to have guests. She stood in the dining-roo_iewing the two extra places and wondering whom her father had asked. Usuall_n holidays, when the rest of the family assembled at Amzi's, the Kirkwood_ad eaten their midday meal alone. If he had asked the Bartletts' to shar_his particular Christmas feast it must have been without premeditation, fo_he had herself visited the sisters on her way to Amzi's, and nothing had bee_aid about a later meeting. It was not like her father to invite guest_ithout consulting her. Her mother's return had changed the world's orbit.
Nothing was as it had been; nothing seemed quite real. The house in Buckey_ane, about which so many happy memories clustered, was suddenly becom_istorted and all out of drawing, as though she viewed it through a defectiv_indow-pane. She went upstairs and glanced warily into her father's bedroom, as though fearing to find ghosts there.
As she redressed her hair she regarded herself in the mirror with a ne_uriosity. She was a stranger to herself; she was not the same Phil Kirkwoo_ho had stood before the glass that morning, but a very different person—_hil who had come suddenly upon a hidden crevasse in the bright, even meado_f her life and peered into an undreamed-of abyss.
If her mother—that mother who had always lived less vividly in her imaginatio_han her favorite characters in fiction—had not proved so bewilderingly, s_nthrallingly captivating, so wholly charming and lovable, she might hav_rappled the situation with some certainty. But no woman had ever been lik_hat! Her mother was the most wonderful being in the world! Little by littl_hrough the years her aunts had been creating in Phil's mind a vulgar, vain, wicked figure and pointing to it as a fair portrait of her mother. She ha_lways disliked her aunts; she found herself hating them now with a passionat_ntensity that frightened her.
She flung herself down in the window-seat and looked toward Main Street wit_nseeing eyes. A wonderful voice murmured in her ears, speaking a ne_anguage. She tried to recall what had been said as she crouched at he_other's feet, her head in her lap, before the fire in Amzi's living-room; bu_t was like the futile effort to recall an elusive strain of music. She ha_elt curiously no disparity of years in that interview; it had been like _alk with a newfound sister, or with a girl with whom she had established on_f the sudden intimate friendships of school days. This wonderful Lois touche_ith a warm brilliancy innumerable points and surfaces that flashed an_leamed before Phil's fascinated, eager eyes. She had satisfied her curiosit_s to Phil in a dozen direct questions that elicited information withou_eaving any ground for discussing it. Was Phil well?—and happy? What was Phi_ost interested in? Had there been money enough for her needs? And always wit_he implication that if the answers to these questions should not prov_atisfactory, it did not greatly matter, as the deficiencies could easily b_upplied.
They were to see each other, Phil and this enchanting mother—to-morrow; yes, there had been definite agreement upon that. But Lois had seemed a_ndifferent to days after to-morrow as to days before yesterday. And whil_his troubled Phil, she had caught so much of her mother's spirit, she ha_een so responsive to the new amazing language that fell so fascinatingly fro_er mother's lips, that she accepted the promise of a single to-morrow withou_isgivings. Sufficient unto the day was the wonder thereof!
She drew from her pocket a wristlet of diamonds, which Lois had given her a_hey parted at Amzi's door. The gems sparkled in the sunny window. It was _rinket of beauty and value, and Phil clasped it upon her wrist an_ontemplated it with awe and delight. It was worth, she assumed, almost o_uite as much as the house in which she lived; and yet her mother had bestowe_t upon her with gay apologies for its paltriness—this mother out of a fairy- tale, this girlish mother with the wise, beautiful eyes, and most entrancin_f voices.
The gate clicked and she glanced down at the yard. Her father was bringin_ose and Nan to the house! They were walking briskly, and advanced to the doo_aughing. The women looked up, saw Phil, and waved their hands. Her fathe_lung a snowball at the window. Happiness was in the faces of the trio—_appiness that struck Phil with forebodings. She had never in her imagining_hought an hour would come when she would begrudge her father any joy tha_ight come to him; even less had it ever seemed possible that she would loo_orward with dread to meeting Rose and Nan. She hid her mother's gift and ra_own to let them in.
"You remember," said her father, "the Maryland epicure's remark about th_urkey being an annoying bird—just a leetle too big for one and not quite bi_nough for two? I decided to see how it would work for four."
"We didn't know we were coming, Phil, when we saw you. Your father came alon_fterward and found we were going to eat a plain, domestic duck by ourselves; and we weakly, meekly fell," explained Rose.
"There can't be a real Christmas unless there's a party; and I thought i_bout time we had a quiet little celebration of 'The Gray Knight o_icardy'—seventh edition now printing, and the English rights well placed.
Phil, it's up to you to carry on the literary partnership with Nan. I'm out o_t. I'm going to write the publisher at once to go ahead and enlighten th_ondering world as to the authorship of the 'Gray Knight'—Miss Nancy Bartlett, of Buckeye Lane!"
"You shall do nothing of the kind, Tom," declared Nan with emphasis; an_mmediately blushed.
This was the first time Phil had heard Nan call her father by his first name.
To be sure, he always addressed both Nan and Rose by their Christian names; but that was not surprising, as he had known the Bartletts' well from the tim_f his coming to the college, when every one called him Professor or Doctor.
At the table Nan and Kirkwood did most of the talking, and now and then the_xchanged glances that expressed to Phil some new understanding between them.
It had never before been so clear to Phil how perfectly sympathetic these tw_ere. Her father was a clever man and Nan Bartlett an unusually clever woman.
At other times Phil would have delighted in their sharp fencing; the snap an_rackle of their dialogue; but her heart ached to-day. She felt the presenc_f a specter at the table. She heard that other voice with its new an_hrilling accents, that careless, light laugh with its gentle mockery. She wa_ecalled from a long reverie by a question from Rose.
"How did you find the gathering of the clans at Amzi's?"
"Just about as cheerful as usual," replied Phil colorlessly.
"Amzi's seat will be in the front row of the heavenly choir-loft," observe_an. "What he has taken from those women has given him a clear title to joy_neffable."
"Amy is not a mere man," said Phil; "he is a great soul."
She had spoken so earnestly that they all looked at her in surprise. If sh_ad referred to her uncle as a brick, or a grand old sport, or the dearest ol_ndian on the reservation, they would have taken it as a matter of course; bu_hil was not quite herself to-day.
"Don't you feel well, Phil?" asked Nan, so pointedly referring to the unwonte_obriety with which she had spoken of her uncle that they all laughed.
"The aunts must have been unusually vexatious to-day. You're not quite up t_itch, Phil. Too much candy has spoiled your appetite," remarked her father.
"I guess my sweet tooth did betray me into indiscretions," she answered wit_n effort at lightness; and added,
> "The bon-bon and the caramel > Poor Phyllis did waylay; > And being only a weak mortal young thing to whom > Christmas comes but once a year > Is it surprising what befell?
> For she knew not the sad word Nay."
"Oh, unutterable horrors! That's the worst you ever perpetrated!" cried he_ather. "Just for that you shall eat another piece of mince pie."
"Nothing of the kind, Tom; we must not add to the sufferings of one whose ow_hymes are punishment enough," said Nan.
The two women looked at Phil more closely. She seemed preoccupied and he_ontributions to their banter were perfunctory and spiritless. When they wer_stablished in the living-room, Phil crouched on a stool by the fire.
Concealment and dissimulation were so wholly foreign to her nature that it wa_ith difficulty that she resisted an impulse to blurt out the whole thing.
They would know within a few hours of her mother's return, and the fact tha_he had withheld the information would make her situation more difficult. Sh_aw her father furtively touch Nan's hand; he was beyond question very much i_ove with her; and Nan had practically confessed, on that memorable afternoo_ollowing Amzi's party, her regard for Kirkwood. Then it had seemed to Phi_he most natural and rational thing in the world for her father and Nan t_arry; but now in this whirling chaos to which the world had been reduced, th_hought of it was abhorrent. No wonder they looked at her curiously, no_nderstanding her silence. Phil loved them all! Phil wanted everybody to b_appy! Yet clearly happiness even in the small circle of her nearest an_earest was impossible. Her nimble fancy led her over rough chaotic peaks i_n effort to find a point from which to survey the general desolation. I_ractical terms she reasoned that men and women sometimes remarried after _ong estrangement. Perhaps—But she was unable to push beyond that perhaps.
The bell rang and she was glad of the interruption. Fred Holton had come t_all. Kirkwood greeted him cordially, and they widened the circle before th_rate to admit him. Phil addressed herself to Fred with the kindliness h_lways inspired in her. He was a trifle abashed by the presence of th_artletts, and on seeing them, furtively dropped a package he had brought on _hair by the door. Phil, inspecting it glancingly, saw her name scribbled o_he paper wrapper.
"Christmas gift! Who guesses this is a Christmas gift for me?"
"Everybody!" cried the Bartletts.
"I guess it's a book. I hope it's a book. I shall be disappointed if it isn'_ book," continued Phil.
Fred blushed, and said it wasn't anything. The clerk in the bookstore ha_ecommended it, and he thought Phil might like it. Phil tore off the wrappe_nd held up "The Gray Knight of Picardy." The sight of it sent a quick, shar_ain through her heart. It was no longer merely the best tale of the seaso_hat her father and one of her dearest friends had written, but a book he_ather and the woman he loved had written; and this, in the light of the day'_vents, was a very different matter.
"Thank you, Fred. It's nice of you to think of me. And I'm sure it's a goo_tory."
"They say it's awfully funny," said Fred.
Nothing seemed funny to Phil; but she exerted herself to be entertaining. Sh_as in a mood to be touched by his gift. Charles Holton had sent her a box o_oses from Indianapolis and they were nodding from the tall vase on th_antel. She saw Fred eyeing them, and hastened to say that books made th_inest possible gifts.
"It must be lonely in the country to-day," remarked Nan. "But I suppose you'v_pent the day in town."
"Only part of it," replied Fred. "I couldn't desert the live stock; and I hav_ man there with me. We had our Christmas feast and I hopped on th_nterurban."
"Turkey?" asked Phil.
"No; rabbit. Rabbit's much more wholesome for Christmas than turkey. We sel_urkeys to the city folks and feast on rabbits when we need them. I poache_his one, too. But don't tell Mr. Montgomery. It ran under his fence into m_asture, and fearing it was my last chance for Christmas dinner, I pulled th_rigger. Is that a high crime, Mr. Kirkwood?"
"Not at all. We'll assume that it was really your rabbit that had just bee_ut for a stroll on Mr. Montgomery's side of the fence. I'll promise to ge_ou off if you're prosecuted."
"I should think it would be quite grand and splendid to own a farm and go ou_nd pick off game that way," said Phil musingly. "Monarch of all you survey, and that sort of thing. When I had a Flobert rifle in my enchanted youth an_hot sparrows in our back yard, I had something of the same exalted feeling.
Only our estate here is too limited. The neighbors kicked; so many wild shots.
Absurd how sensitive people are. But I suppose if I hadn't broken a fe_lasses of new quince preserves the lady across our alley had put to sun i_er kitchen window, I might never have lost the gun."
"I don't seem to remember that incident of your career, Phil," said Rose.
"I hope nobody does. The lady's husband happened to be the town marshal, an_e told daddy a lot of sad things that were going to happen to me if I didn'_top shooting at his perfectly good wife as she followed her usua_vocations."
The Bartletts were relieved to find Phil restored to something like her norma_heerful self. They all enlarged upon the impingement of her bullets upon th_arshal's wife's quinces, discussing the subject in the mock-serious vein tha_as common in their intercourse. If Phil had killed her neighbor, would i_ave been proper for the defense to prove that the quinces were improperl_repared? Kirkwood insisted that such testimony would have been grossl_rregular and that an able jurist like Judge Walters would certainly hav_ejected it. They played with the idea of Phil's heinous crime until they wor_t out.
"Put on the black cap and tell me when I'm to die," said Phil. "I'm guilty. _eally did kill the woman and I buried her under the plum tree in her bac_ard. Now let's think of something cheerful."
Nan and Kirkwood dropped out of the circle a little later, and Phil heard the_alking in subdued tones in the library. Rose withdrew to the window an_ecame absorbed in a book.
"I saw you and Charlie that day you climbed up the bluff," said Fred th_oment Rose was out of hearing. "I hope you won't do that any more. I hope yo_on't ever do things like that again!" he ended earnestly.
"It was just a lark; why shouldn't I do it?"
"The chances were that you'd fall and be killed. You had no right to take th_hance. And Charlie had no right to let you do it."
"Charlie hadn't anything to do with it. He couldn't have helped himself," sai_hil defensively.
"Then the rest of them down on the creek should have stopped you. It was th_raziest thing I ever saw."
"I suppose it was silly," Phil admitted tamely, "but it's all over now."
It was in her heart to say that nothing greatly mattered, and yet there was _ertain comfort in knowing that he cared. His blue eyes told her frankly ho_uch he cared; and she was not unmindful of the wistful smile with which h_egarded her.
His glance wandered from her face to the long-stemmed roses on the mantel- shelf behind her. He knew perfectly well where those roses had come from. Sh_aw the resentment in his eyes. The resumption of social relations between he_unts and the Holtons that had brought her in contact with these nephews o_ack Holton struck her in a new light, with Fred there before her, wit_harles's roses flaunting themselves unrebuked in her father's house. She ha_o business to be receiving Fred Holton; Charles's flowers assumed suddenly _ire significance. She meant to be rid of them the moment she could do s_ithout attracting attention. It was on her tongue to say something unkind t_red; her loyalty to her mother seemed to demand it. And yet neither Fred no_harles had been in any wise responsible for her mother's tragedy. Fred ha_isen and stood before the fire with his arms folded. The care he took to mak_imself presentable, expressed in his carefully brushed clothes; the polish o_is rough shoes; his clean-shaven face, touched her now as at other times. Sh_ondered whether, if they had been alone, she would not have confessed he_erplexities and asked his counsel. In their talks she had been impressed b_is rugged common sense, and her plight was one that demanded the exercise o_ust that quality. Rose turned the pages of her book. Her father and Na_ontinued their conference in low tones in the adjoining room.
"You promise—don't you—that you won't ever do foolish things like that an_ore," and Fred put out his hand half in farewell, half as though the clasp h_nvited would mean a pledge.
"Please forget it. I'll probably never have another chance. That was the kin_f thing you do only once; there wouldn't be any fun in doing it over again."
"Your father has been mighty nice to me: I wanted to tell him I appreciate_t. I felt I'd like to say that to him on Christmas—just a kind of sentimenta_eeling about it. But you please say it for me. He'll understand; I couldn'_ay it before the others."
She responded passively: there were a good many things that she must say t_er father!
Kirkwood and Nan reappeared as they heard Fred saying good-bye to Rose.
Nan said she and her sister must be going, too, as they had some calls t_ake. At the door Nan kissed Phil, and asked her to come to see her the nex_ay. The kiss and this special invitation, half-whispered, confirmed Phil'_elief that her father and Nan would have told her of their engagement i_red's coming had not interfered. She was glad for the delay, and yet it woul_ave been easier in many ways to have met the issue squarely before Nan an_ose. She and her father watched Fred and the women pass from sight towar_own.
"He seems to be a nice fellow," remarked Kirkwood, as they returned to th_iving-room—"a clean, manly sort of chap."
"He's all that," replied Phil. "He came to thank you for something: he's to_hy to talk much in company and he asked me to tell you how much h_ppreciated something or other you had done for him."
"Queer chap, for a Holton," Kirkwood observed, striking a match on th_nderside of the slate mantel-shelf. "There's a real nobility in that boy. H_idn't tell you what he wanted to speak to me about? That's better yet. _magine his brother isn't so shy about publishing his good works before men."
Kirkwood's eyes sought the roses. The "attentions" Phil was receiving ha_oused in him the mixed bewilderment and awe with which a father realizes tha_e has on his hands a daughter upon whom other men have begun to loo_ovetously. Half a dozen young fellows were dancing attendance upon Phil. I_he hotel and at the theater in Indianapolis men and women had paid her th_ribute of a second glance, and Mrs. Fitch had been enthusiastic about her.
His tolerant spirit had not visited upon the young Holtons the sins of thei_ncle. Charles's devotion to Phil had rather amused him; he had taken it as a_blique compliment to himself, assuming that it was due to anxiety o_harles's part to ingratiate himself with Phil's father quite as much as wit_hil.
"I suppose what Fred meant was a little matter between us in the tractio_usiness. You know that farm he settled on next to Amzi's? He's turned it ove_o me."
"You mean he doesn't own it any more?" asked Phil.
"Strictly speaking, no. In the general Holton mess he thought he ought t_urrender the property. Rather quixotic, but creditable to the boy. You se_harlie was executor of their father's estate. Charlie's beyond doubt a ver_mooth young person. And no end plausible. He got Fred to take that farm i_ettlement of all claims against Samuel's estate. And when Fred found ou_here was trouble over his father's financiering of the Sycamore he hopped o_he trolley and came to the city and turned over the farm to me as trustee. H_eemed no end grateful to me for allowing him to do it."
"But you didn't let him—it isn't fair! Why the farm's no good anyhow! An_esides, Charlie wouldn't have done Fred an injury. He talked to me the othe_ay at his aunt's skating-party about all that traction business and I'm sur_e never meant any harm. He couldn't help what his father did. But to tak_red's farm away—why, daddy, that would be the supreme grand lim _ite_!"
Kirkwood laughed and pinched her chin.
"What a terrible young person you are! You seem to forget that I'm not th_oltons' attorney. I'm hired by the poor innocents who bought Sam Holton'_onds, and it's my business to get all the money for them I can. Charles'_ricks with his father's estate only figure incidentally, but they have a dar_ook. It's merely a case of the sins of the parents being visited upon th_hildren—"
He had been speaking half-carelessly, not really heeding what he said, and h_rrested himself with an impatient shrug of the shoulders. The visitation of _arent's sins upon children was not a subject for discussion in tha_ousehold, as Phil realized with a poignancy born of her morning's adventure.
Kirkwood was instantly contrite as he saw tears in Phil's eyes. He would no_or worlds have wounded her. It was impossible for him to know how in her ne_ensitiveness this careless speech, which a day earlier would have passe_nheeded, aroused all her instincts of defense. She was half-aware of th_rony by which their talk about the nephews of Jack Holton had carried the_ith so fateful a directness to her mother.
Kirkwood frowned. His former wife was of all subjects the most ungrateful o_his Christmas day. The old wounds had healed absolutely and the scars eve_ad vanished in his new hope and happiness. He did not mean to have his da_poiled. He crossed the room to the window where Phil stood pulling idly at _ithered geranium leaf. He drew her round and kissed her.
"Forgive me, dear old Phil! I wouldn't hurt you for ten thousand kingdoms. An_ didn't mean that. I don't think it; moreover, I don't believe in tha_hilosophy."
His contrition was unmistakedly sincere; yet she knew that if he had no_bliterated the thought of her mother from his mind he would not have let sli_hat reference to parental sins. His forgetfulness was worse than the offens_tself.
She experienced a sensation, new in all their intercourse, of wanting to hur_im. This was, in all kindness and charity, the instant for announcing he_other's return; and yet before making that disclosure Phil meant to force hi_o tell her in so many words that he was engaged to marry Nan. This was th_ost astonishing of all Phil's crowding experiences of the day, that sh_arbored with cruel satisfaction the thought of inflicting pain upon he_ather—her old comrade, with whom she had so joyfully camped and tramped an_ived so many happy days in this little house, where now for the first tim_hadows danced malevolently.
"I wanted this to be a happy day, Phil. What do we care about the Holtons o_ycamore Traction! Charlie and Fred are all right, and I must say that I'v_een a good deal pleased by the attitude of both the young fellows. But I hav_omething to tell you; something you've been prepared for for a long time i_hat wise, old head of yours. It's made me the happiest man in the world; an_ hope it will make you almost as happy. And I believe it's for your good; that it's going to be a great big factor in working out all your problems an_ine! Come now, forgive me, and tell me whether you want three guesses as t_hat it is!"
He rested the tips of his fingers on her shoulders, standing off and lookin_t her with all the old fondness in his eyes. He had spoken buoyantly; hi_anner was that of a young man about to confide a love affair to a sympatheti_ister.
Phil slipped from under his hands and stood rigid, with her back against th_eranium box. She swallowed a sob and lifted her head to meet the blow. H_ould not have it thus, but caught her hands and swung them in a tight clasp.
"It's Nan, Phil, dear: Nan's promised to marry me! She's been saying she neve_ould. It was only last night she agreed to take this poor old wreck and tr_o make a man of me. We meant to tell you to-day if Fred Holton hadn't com_n, and then the girls had to run. But nobody is to know for a month yet; w_ean to be married at Easter. That last point we fixed up just now in th_ibrary. You see what a lot of things can happen right here in dear ol_ontgomery within twenty-four hours."
He waited for one of her characteristic Philesque outbursts—one of th_umultuous mussings with which she celebrated her happy surprises. Nothing wa_eeded to complete his joy but Phil's approval, about which he had never ha_he slightest question. In his last talk with Nan on Christmas Eve they ha_iscussed Phil and the effect of their marriage upon her rather more than upo_hemselves. And he had now exhausted himself upon the announcement; there wa_othing more that he could say. Phil's hands were cold in his, and with a_lmost imperceptible pressure she was thrusting him away from her. Two grea_ears welled in her eyes and stole down her cheeks.
"Why, Phil! I thought you—you of all people in the world—"
"Mamma has come back!" said Phil colorlessly; and repeated, "mamma has com_ack. She is at Uncle Amy's, and I have seen her."
There was silence for a little space while he stared at her. Their eyes met i_ long gaze. He grew suddenly white and she felt the trembling of his hands.
"O God, no!" he said hoarsely. "You don't mean that, Phil. This is a joke—no_ere; not in Montgomery! She would never do that. Come, you mustn't trifl_ith me; it's—it's too horrible."
His voice sank to a whisper with his last word. The word and his tone i_ttering it had not expressed the full sense of the horror that was in hi_ace.
"It is true, daddy," she said softly, kindly. "I have seen her; I have talke_ith her."
"You saw her at Amzi's?" he asked dully.
"Yes; she came last night. I didn't know it until I got to the house thi_orning. They were all there, and when I went in they tried to send me off; they thought I oughtn't to see her."
"There was a scene, then; they were ugly about it?"
"They tried to be; but it didn't go!"
He noted the faltering triumph of her tone and looked at her more closely.
"They wanted her to go and she held her ground against them?"
"I held it with her," said Phil.
"You didn't think she should go; was that it, Phil?"
"I didn't think she should be treated like a dog!"
Phil drew away, with her head held high, her fists tightly clenched. Kirkwoo_alked slowly across the room thrice while she stood immovable. He recalle_er presence in a moment and remarked absently:—
"Amzi should have told me. It wasn't fair for him to do this. If I had know_ast night that she was here—"
He broke off with a groan. The resigned, indifferent air he had lately flun_ff possessed him again, and seeing it the pity stole back into her heart. Sh_oved about, avoiding him, fearful of meeting again that hurt, wounded look i_is eyes. The short day was drawing to an end, and the shadows deepened. H_as mechanically lighting his pipe, and she crouched in her favorite seat b_he fire.
"It's a little tough, Phil," he said finally with a revival of courage, pausing in his slow, aimless wandering through the rooms. "It's a little toug_fter so long, and _now_."
She could not controvert this; she merely waited to see what further he had t_ay. He paused presently, his arm on the mantel-shelf, his fingers nervousl_laying with his pipe.
"What is she like, Phil?"
"Oh, she is lovely! She is the most charming woman that ever lived!"
"You liked her, then; she was nice to you?"
"She is dear and sweet and wonderful! Oh, I didn't know she would be lik_hat!"
His eyes opened and shut quickly. There was an implied accusation against hi_n the fervor of her admiration for the wife who had deserted him. He grope_or something in self-justification with which to confute Lois Montgomery'_aughter.
"You found her what you would like your mother to be,—you didn't think he_ard or cruel?"
"You wouldn't have thought her a woman who would desert a husband and _elpless baby and run away with another man?"
There was silence in the room. He had mercilessly condensed the case agains_ois Montgomery, reducing it to its harshest terms for Phil's contemplation.
It was in Phil's mind that she had nothing to do with those things; that th_oman against whose cheek she had laid her own was not Thomas Kirkwood'_ecreant wife, but another and very different person. She did not know how t_xpress this; it seemed preposterous to insist to her father that his forme_ife was not the same woman that she had held speech with that day.
"I can't talk about her in that way, daddy. I can't tell you just how I feel.
But it seemed so wonderful, when I went into the house, and those horribl_reatures were circling round her like wolves, that we understood each other, she and I, without a word being said! And I hated them all, except dear ol_my. They all went home and Amy went off and left us alone, and we talked jus_s though we had been old friends."
She ceased as though to attempt to describe it would be profanation.
"What did she say—about me?" he asked blindly.
"Oh, she didn't talk about you at all! It wasn't that kind of talk—not abou_hat she had done—not even about what she meant to do! She is so young! She i_ust like a girl! And she speaks so charmingly, with the loveliest voice. It'_ike the way the water ripples round the big boulders at The Run."
"She hadn't anything to say about her going off? I don't quite believe yo_ean that, Phil."
"That's exactly the truth, daddy"; and there was grieved surprise in her tone.
"Why, she isn't like that; she wouldn't ever say anything to hurt any one. _aven't words to tell you about her, because there was never any one like her.
She is all sunniness and sweetness. And she's the most amusing person I eve_aw,—ever so droll and funny!"
Phil's refusal or inability to see her mother in robes of sin irritate_irkwood. For Phil to call her an amusing person was sheer childish naïveté.
Phil was the victim of an infatuation which he could understand now that hi_ife began to live again in his imagination. He had read in books that th_aternal instinct will assert itself after long separations, where mother an_hild are without other clue than that of the mysterious filial and materna_ie to guide them; but his practical sense rejected the idea. If he had bee_arned of Lois's unaccountable return, he might have fortified Phil agains_er charms, but now it was too late. Lois was Phil's mother. Shocked as he wa_y this termination of his Christmas-Day happiness, his nature revolte_gainst any attempt to shatter Phil's new idol. The fact that Lois had sinne_s much against Phil as against himself was not something that he could urg_ow that Phil had taken her stand. The thought of Lois brought before him no_nly the unhappy past, but she seemed, with the cruelest calculation, to hav_lanted herself in the path of his happy future.
He was intent upon a situation that called for immediate handling. He tried t_ring the scattered dim stars in this new firmament to focus. He might go t_an and endeavor to minimize the effects of Lois's return, urging that if sh_ished to spend the rest of her life in Montgomery it was her affair, and ha_othing whatever to do with her former husband or the woman he meant to marry.
This was a sane, reasonable view of the situation; but its sanity an_easonableness were not likely to impress Nan Bartlett. Such an event as th_udden return of Lois would pass into local history as a great sensation. Jac_olton's re-appearance only a few weeks earlier had caused his fellow-townsme_o attack the old scandal with the avidity of a dog unearthing a neglecte_one; and the return of the woman in the case could hardly fail to prove fa_ore provocative of gossip. If Lois persisted in remaining in Montgomery, i_as wholly unlikely that Nan would ever marry him; nor could he with an_elicacy insist upon her doing so. They might marry and move to Indianapolis, thereby escaping the discomforts of the smaller town's criticism; and this wa_ade possible by his brightening prospects. At any rate, it was only fair t_o to Nan at once and lay the matter before her. Even now the news might hav_eached her; news spreads quickly in the world's compact Montgomerys.
Phil aroused herself as she heard him fumbling for his coat at the hall-rack.
She found a match and lighted the gas.
"Going out, daddy?" she asked in something like her usual tone.
He looked at her vaguely as he drew on his coat, as though trying t_nderstand what she had said.
"Well, you'll be back for supper. There'll be the usual holiday-cold-turke_upper, daddy."
"Yes, Phil; I'll be back after while. I'm going for a tramp."