Summer passed by. The Stirling clan—with the insignificant exception of Cousi_eorgiana—had tacitly agreed to follow Uncle James' example and look upo_alancy as one dead. To be sure, Valancy had an unquiet, ghostly habit o_ecurring resurrections when she and Barney clattered through Deerwood and ou_o the Port in that unspeakable car. Valancy bareheaded, with stars in he_yes. Barney, bareheaded, smoking his pipe. But shaved. Always shaved now, i_ny of them had noticed it. They even had the audacity to go in to Uncl_enjamin's store to buy groceries. Twice Uncle Benjamin ignored them. Was no_alancy one of the dead? While Snaith had never existed. But the third time h_old Barney he was a scroundrel who should be hung for luring an unfortunate,
weak-minded girl away from her home and friends.
Barney's one straight eyebrow went up.
"I have made her happy," he said coolly, "and she was miserable with he_riends. So that's that."
Uncle Benjamin stared. It had never occurred to him that women had to be, o_ught to be, "made happy."
"You—you pup!" he said.
"Why be so unoriginal?" queried Barney amiably. "Anybody could call me a pup.
Why not think of something worthy of the Stirlings? Besides, I'm not a pup.
I'm really quite a middle-aged dog. Thirty-five, if you're interested i_nowing."
Uncle Benjamin remembered just in time that Valancy was dead. He turned hi_ack on Barney.
Valancy _was_ happy—gloriously and entirely so. She seemed to be living in _onderful house of life and every day opened a new, mysterious room. It was i_ world which had nothing in common with the one she had left behind—a worl_here time was not—which was young with immortal youth—where there was neithe_ast nor future but only the present. She surrendered herself utterly to th_harm of it.
The absolute freedom of it all was unbelievable. They could do exactly as the_iked. No Mrs. Grundy. No traditions. No relatives. Or in-laws. "Peace,
perfect peace, with loved ones far away," as Barney quoted shamelessly.
Valancy had gone home once and got her cushions. And Cousin Georgiana ha_iven her one of her famous candlewick spreads of most elaborate design. "Fo_our spare-room bed, dear," she said.
"But I haven't got any spare-room," said Valancy.
Cousin Georgiana looked horrified. A house without a spare-room was monstrou_o her.
"But it's a lovely spread," said Valanacy, with a kiss, "and I'm so glad t_ave it. I'll put it on my own bed. Barney's old patch-work quilt is gettin_agged."
"I don't see how you can be contented to live up back," sighed Cousi_eorgiana. "It's so out of the world."
"Contented!" Valancy laughed. What was the use of trying to explain to Cousi_eorgiana. "It is," she agreed, "most gloriously and entirely out of th_orld."
"And you are really happy, dear?" asked Cousin Georgiana wistfully.
"I really am," said Valancy gravely, her eyes dancing.
"Marriage is such a serious thing," sighed Cousin Georgiana.
"When it's going to last long," agreed Valancy.
Cousin Georgiana did not understand this at all. But it worried her and sh_ay awake at nights wondering what Valancy meant by it.
Valancy loved her Blue Castle and was completely satisfied with it. The bi_iving-room had three windows, all commanding exquisite views of exquisit_istawis. The one in the end of the room was an oriel window—which To_acMurray, Barney explained, had got out of some little, old "up back" churc_hat had been sold. It faced the west and when the sunsets flooded i_alancy's whole being knelt in prayer as if in some great cathedral. The ne_oons always looked down through it, the lower pine boughs swayed about th_op of it, and all through the nights the soft, dim silver of the lake dreame_hrough it.
There was a stone fireplace on the other side. No desecrating gas imitatio_ut a real fireplace where you could burn real logs. With a big grizzl_earskin on the floor before it, and beside it a hideous, red-plush sofa o_om MacMurray's régime. But its ugliness was hidden by silver-grey timber wol_kins, and Valancy's cushions made it gay and comfortable. In a corner a nice,
tall, lazy old clock ticked—the right kind of a clock. One that did not hurr_he hours away but ticked them off deliberately. It was the jolliest lookin_ld clock. A fat, corpulent clock with a great, round, man's face painted o_t, the hands stretching out of its nose and the hours encircling it like _alo.
There was a big glass case of stuffed owls and several deer heads—likewise o_om MacMurray's vintage. Some comfortable old chairs that asked to be sa_pon. A squat little chair with a cushion was prescriptively Banjo's. I_nybody else dared sit on it Banjo glared him out of it with his topaz-hued,
black-ringed eyes. Banjo had an adorable habit of hanging over the back of it,
trying to catch his own tail. Losing his temper because he couldn't catch it.
Giving it a fierce bite for spite when he _did_ catch it. Yowlin_alignantly with pain. Barney and Valancy laughed at him until they ached. Bu_t was Good Luck they loved. They were both agreed that Good Luck was s_ovable that he practically amounted to an obsession.
One side of the wall was lined with rough, homemade book-shelves filled wit_ooks, and between the two side windows hung an old mirror in a faded gilt-
frame, with fat cupids gamboling in the panel over the glass. A mirror,
Valancy thought, that must be like the fabled mirror into which Venus had onc_ooked and which thereafter reflected as beautiful every woman who looked int_t. Valancy thought she was almost pretty in that mirror. But that may hav_een because she had shingled her hair.
This was before the day of bobs and was regarded as a wild, unheard-o_roceeding—unless you had typhoid. When Mrs. Frederick heard of it she almos_ecided to erase Valancy's name from the family Bible. Barney cut the hair,
square off at the back of Valancy's neck, bringing it down in a short blac_ringe over her forehead. It gave a meaning and a purpose to her little,
three-cornered face that it never had possessed before. Even her nose cease_o irritate her. Her eyes were bright, and her sallow skin had cleared to th_ue of creamy ivory. The old family joke had come true—she was really fat a_ast—anyway, no longer skinny. Valancy might never be beautiful, but she wa_f the type that looks its best in the woods—elfin—mocking—alluring. Her hear_othered her very little. When an attack threatened she was generally able t_ead it off with Dr. Trent's prescription. The only bad one she had was on_ight when she was temporarily out of medicine. And it _was_ a bad one. Fo_he time being, Valancy realised keenly that death was actually waiting t_ounce on her any moment. But the rest of the time she would not—did not—le_erself remember it at all.