When he had recovered from the first shock of his wife's return, Kirkwoo_djusted himself to the new order of things in a philosophic temper. Nan ha_ithdrawn absolutely her day-old promise to marry him. That episode in hi_ife was ended. He felt the nobility of her attitude without wholly acceptin_ts conclusions. He had tried to persuade her that the geography of the matte_ad nothing to do with it; that having promised to marry him when the_elieved Lois to be safely out of the way, her return did not affect thei_tatus in the least. This was the flimsiest casuistry, as he well knew. I_ade a tremendous difference where Lois was!
"I have to go away to-morrow, Phil, and I'm likely to be in Indianapolis muc_f the time until spring. I can't take you with me very well; a hotel is n_lace for you, and I shall be very busy. And I can't leave you here alone, yo_now."
His tone was kind; he always meant to be kind, this dear father of hers! H_urried on with an even greater thoughtfulness to anticipate a solution o_his problem which had occurred to her instantly, but which she lacked th_ourage to suggest.
"I saw your Uncle Amzi to-day and had a long talk with him about you. _roposed that you go to his house and stay, at least until I get through m_ork with the Sycamore Company. We won't make any definite date for you_eturn, for the reason that I don't just know when I'll be free to settle dow_ere again. Amzi was perfectly agreeable to the idea—quite splendid about it, in fact. Your mother, it seems, means to stay with him. And now there's thi_urther thing, Phil. You won't mind my going into it a little bit, once an_or all. The law gave you to me long ago, but apart from that I suppose I hav_ certain moral claim to you. But I want you to feel free to do as you lik_here your mother's concerned. What I said of her yesterday I'm sorry for; _houldn't have done that if I'd been myself. And I'm not making it necessar_or you to make a choice between us. We're old comrades, you and I, Phil, an_here can't be any shadow of a difference between us, now or ever. It's th_implest and easiest thing for you to go to your uncle's house, and we won'_ven consider the fact that your mother is there; we'll just assume that he_eing there is the most natural thing in the world, and that it's a matter o_ur common convenience for you to be there, too. You see how perfectly eas_nd natural it all comes about."
She clung to him, the tears welling. She had never been disappointed in him, and this generosity moved her deeply. He was making it easy for her to go t_er mother; that was all. Her soul rebelled against the fate that mad_ecessary any choice when her father was so gentle, so wise, so kind, and he_other so transcendently charming and lovable.
"You are so good to me; you have always been so good!" she sobbed. "And I'_orry I was ugly yesterday, about Nan. You know I love Nan. No one was eve_inder to me than Nan—hardly you, even! And I don't want you to give her up; you need each other; you do understand each other! Oh, everything is so quee_nd wrong!"
"No, Phil; things are not as queer and wrong as they look. Don't get that ide_nto your head. Life isn't queer or wrong; life simply isn't as easy as i_ooks, and that's very different."
He smiled, turning her face so that she could see that he smiled no_nhappily.
"But I don't want you to go away; I'd die if I thought I shouldn't see you an_ore—and all the good times we've had, right here in this old house—an_verything—"
"But this isn't the end of things. When I'm back, as I shall be for a day o_wo frequently, I'll always let you know; or you can run over to the city an_o a theater with me whenever you like. So let's be cheerful abou_verything."
The passing of her trunk from her father's house to her uncle's was no_eglected by the gossips. Her three aunts noted it, and excoriated Kirkwoo_nd Amzi. They took care that every one should know how they felt about th_ransfer of poor, dear Phil (on whom they had lavished their love and care fo_ears, to the end that she might grow up respectable, etc., etc.) to a roo_hat sheltered her Jezebel of a mother.
"That was nice of him," said Lois, when Phil explained her coming. "How's you_ather getting on these days?"
"Oh, quite well!" Phil replied.
She was establishing herself in a room adjoining her mother's. Lois, in _lowered silk kimona, commented upon Phil's clothes as they were hauled fro_he trunk. Her opinions in the main were touched with her light, glancin_rony.
"I'll wager Jo bought that walnut-stain effect," she remarked, pointing a_ccusing finger at a dark waist. "That has Josephine stamped on it. Poor ol_oul!"
Her manner of speaking of her sister set Phil to giggling. Mrs. Waterman ha_ought that particular article over Phil's solemn protest, and she now sat o_he bed and watched her mother carry the odious thing gingerly by the colla_o the door and fling it in the direction of the back stairs.
Lois brought from her own room a set of silver toilet articles and distribute_hem over the top of Phil's bureau.
"I forgot all about these, Phil; but they fit in handily right here. A littl_elf-indulgence of my own, but my old ones are good enough. Oh, please don't!"
she exclaimed, as Phil began to thank her. "Why shouldn't you have them? Wh_as a better right to them, I'd like to know!"
Whereupon she began experimenting with the nail-polisher from Phil's set.
"This is a good polisher, Phil. I'm going to show you how to do your ow_anicuring—every lady her own maid. Sarah dug up a colored hairdresser, manicurist, and light-running domestic chatterbox this morning, and she gav_y hair a pulling I shan't forget in a hurry. Never again! If you can't have _rained maid, you'd better be your own beautifier. I had a wonderful girl th_ast time I was over, and took her with me on a motor trip through the châtea_ountry. She was an outrageous little flirt. Two chauffeurs got into a ro_bout her during the week we spent at Tours, and one pounded the other into _ulp. The French rural police are duller than the ox, and they locked up Mari_s a witness. Imagine my feelings! It was very annoying."
Her smile belied the annoyance. Phil surmised that she had enjoyed th_xperience; but Lois added no details to her hasty picture. Lois did no_rouble herself greatly with details; everything with her was sketchy an_mpressionistic.
"What about boys, Phil?"
"I've had one proposal; he was a senior with a funny stammer. He went awa_ith his diploma last June, and said he'd never forget. I got his cards to- day. She's a Lafayette girl he had down for the 'Pan' in his senior year. Sh_as golden hair," Phil added musingly.
"The scoundrel; to forget you as quick as that!" And Lois laughed as Phil ben_er head and clasped her hands in a mockery of dejection. "You've come out an_ suppose you are asked to all the parties. Let me see, when I was a gir_here were candy-pullings, and 'companies' where you sat around and were bore_ntil somebody proposed playing 'The Prince of Paris Lost his Hat' or som_ame like that. When the old folks went to bed, our hostess would find a pac_f cards—authors, most likely—or play a waltz on the soft pedal for tw_ouples to dance. Wholesome but not exciting."
"Oh, we're livelier and better than that! They have real balls now at th_asonic Hall; and all the fraternities have dances, and there's the Pan- Hellenic, and so on. And there are dinners in courses, and bridge no end!"
Lois shrugged her shoulders, lifted her pretty brows, and tossed the nail- polisher on to the bureau to emphasize her contempt for bridge in all it_orms.
"As to young men, Phil. Tell me all about the Montgomery cavaliers."
"Oh, every girl knows all the boys. They are divided into two classes a_sual, nice and un-nice. Some of them have flirted with me and I have flirte_ith them. I suppose there was nothing very naughty in that."
"We will pass that for the present. Tell me about the young fellows who pa_ou attentions."
Phil ran over the list, Lois interrupting when some familiar name arrested he_ttention. Phil hit off one after the other in a few apt phrases. Her mothe_n a rocking-chair, with arms folded, was more serious than in any of thei_revious talks. What Phil disclosed was only the social experience of th_verage country-town girl. The fact that she had made a few acquaintances i_ndianapolis interested her mother.
"The Fitches? Yes; nice people. That was through your father? All right. G_n."
"Well, there are the two Holton boys," said Phil, self-conscious for the firs_ime. "You see, my aunts thought everything ought to be fixed up with th_oltons, and they asked Mr. and Mrs. William to my party, and threw in Charli_nd Ethel, and I suggested that they add Fred, too. They are Samuel'_hildren. There being the two brothers it didn't seem nice to leave out one; and I already knew Fred anyhow."
"Why this sudden affection of your aunts for the Holtons?—there is a reaso_or everything those creatures do."
"Mrs. William is stylish and does things. Her maid wears a cap when she open_he door, and Mrs. William makes her calls in a neat electric."
"Everything is explained quite satisfactorily, Phil. Amzi told me our sister_ad buried the hatchet, but he didn't put it quite as clearly as you do. H_id tell me, though, that Jack had spoiled your beautiful party by turning u_runk. That was nasty, vile," she added, shrugging her shoulders. "Well, abou_hese nephews?"
"Charlie is older, and very citified; quite the most dashing man who lighten_ur horizons. He sends me flowers and bon-bons, most expensive. And he's a jo_t paying compliments; makes you feel that you're the only one, or tries to.
He has very large ideas about business and life generally. But nice, I think, and kind and generous. But, mamma—"
She paused, disconcerted by a sudden keen look her mother gave her.
"He sounds like an agreeable person," remarked Lois, glancing at the point o_er slipper.
"What I started to say was that if you think I shouldn't see them any more—"
"Bless me, no! I see what's in your mind, Phil, but you needn't trouble abou_hat. We're just trying to get acquainted, you and I. We understand each othe_eautifully, and after while we'll see whether we have any advice for eac_ther. At your age I hadn't the sense of a kitten. You're most astonishingl_ise; I marvel at you! And you've grown up a nice, sensible girl in spite o_our aunts—none of their cattishness—not a hint of it. I can't tell you ho_elieved I am to find you just as you are. The way they have cuddled up to th_oltons is diverting, but nothing more. It's what you would have expected o_hem. The proud and haughty Montgomerys turned snobs! It's frightful to thin_f it! As for me, I have nothing against the Holtons. I'm this kind of _inner, Phil: I carry my own load. No shoving it off on anybody else! Som_eople are born with ideals; I wasn't! But I hope to acquire some before _ie; we're all entitled to a show at them. But, bless me, what are we talkin_bout? There's the other Holton boy; what's he got to say for himself?"
"Oh, he'd never say it if it were left to him! He's shy, modest, proud. N_rills."
"Well, he has a nice face," Phil answered, so earnestly that her mothe_aughed. "And he's modest and genuine and sincere."
"Those are good qualities. As near as I can make out, you like all these youn_en well enough—the boys you knew in high school and the college boys. An_hese Holtons have broken into the circle lately, and have shown you smal_ttentions—nothing very important."
"Charlie sends me American Beauties, and Fred has brought me quails and _ook."
"What was the book?"
"'The Gray Knight of Picardy.'"
"That's Nan Bartlett's?" Lois looked at the palm of her hand carelessly.
"Yes; it's a great success—the hit of the season."
"I suppose your father and Nan have been good friends—literary interests i_ommon, and all that?"
"Of course," Phil answered, uncomfortable under this seemingly indifferen_uestioning.
"I have read the story. There are pages in it that are like your father. _uppose, seeing so much of each other, they naturally talked it over—a sort o_ollaboration?"
The question required an answer, and Phil shrank from answering. Closeted wit_er mother she was reluctant to confess how close had been the relationshi_etween her father and Nan Bartlett. Her mind worked quickly. She wa_utspokenly truthful by habit; but she was a loyal soul, too. She decided tha_he could answer her mother's question without violating her father'_onfidence as to his feelings toward Nan. That was all over now; her fathe_ad told her so in a word. Lois hummed, picking bits of lint from her skir_hile Phil deliberated.
"Father did help with it. I suppose he even wrote part of it, but nobody nee_now that. Daddy doesn't mean to go in for writing; he says the very suspicio_hat he's literary would hurt him in the law."
"I suppose he helped on the book just to get Nan interested. Now that she'_aunched as a writer, he drops out of the combination."
"Something like that. Daddy is very busy, you know."
Phil entertained views of her own as to the cause of her father's sudde_wakening. She was sure that his interest in Nan was the inspiration of it, quite as much as alarm at the low ebb of his fortunes. In the genera_onfusion into which the world had been plunged, Phil groped in the dark alon_nfamiliar walls. It was a grim fate that flung her back and forth betwee_ather and mother, a shuttle playing across the broken, tangled threads o_heir lives. She started suddenly as a new thought struck her. Perhaps behin_his seemingly inadvertent questioning lay some deeper interest. Suddenly th_ose light of romance touched the situation. Phil looked at Lois guardedly.
What if—? With an accession of feeling she flung herself at her mother's knee_nd took her hands.
"Could you and daddy ever make it up? Could you do that now, after all thes_ears?" she asked earnestly.
Lois looked at her absently, with her trick of trying to recall a question no_ully comprehended.
"Oh, _that_! Never in this world! What do you think your father's made of?"
Again the shrug, so becoming, so expressive, so final! She freed her hands, and drew out and replaced a hairpin. For an instant Phil was dismayed, bu_nce so far afield in dangerous territory she would not retreat.
"But what would you say?" she persisted.
"Dear Phil, don't think of such a terrible thing; it fairly chills me. You_ather is a gentleman; he wouldn't—he wouldn't do anything so cruel as that!"
she said ambiguously.
"I don't see how it would be cruel, if he meant it—if he wanted to!"
"That's because you are an angel and don't know anything about this sad ol_orld of ours. Life isn't like the story-books, Phil. In a novel a nice dea_aughter like you might reconcile her parents with tears and flowers and tha_ort of thing; but in real life it's very different as you will see when yo_hink of it; only I don't want you to think of it at all. I believe you lik_e; we hit it off quite wonderfully; and I should expect you to hate me if _ver dreamed of anything so contemptible as spoiling a man's life twice."
And remembering Nan, Phil could not argue the matter. She was unable t_isualize her father on his knees to her mother. No flimsy net of sentimen_lung across the chasm could bring them within hailing distance of each other; they were utterly irreconcilable characters. It was incredible that they ha_ver pledged themselves to love and cherish each other forever.
"Phil, what did your father say about my coming back?" asked Lois abruptly.
Phil hesitated. Her mother looked at her keenly in that instant of delay, an_hen laid her hand gently upon Phil's lips.
"No; don't answer that! It isn't a fair question. And now let us forget al_hese things forever and ever!"
She proposed a walk before dinner. "I'll get into my boots and be ready in _inute."
Phil heard her whistling as she moved about her room.