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Chapter 17 PHIL'S PERPLEXITIES

  • 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?"
  • "No."
  • "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."
  • But she knew that he had gone to see Nan.