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 DEVON snapped the stub of his cigarette into the fire with a movement of amused impatience, his fingers more eloquent than his thin, impassive countenance.  
“Nothing, was it?”
“No, nothing—that unspeakable wind.” Anne Carver gave a last reluctant glance over her shoulder into the shadowed hall, and pulled the door to behind her, turning her face to the warm, bright room with a rueful smile. “I’m sorry, Hal; it’s outrageous of me—right in the middle of that thrilling story, too.”
In spite of her slim height and the sophisticated skill with which she had wound her velvety black hair about her small head—in spite of the length of filmy train that swept behind her, she looked like some charming and contrite child as she came slowly across the room to the deep chintz chair and the dancing warmth of the fire.
“But it’s nonsense, my dear girl; sheer, unmitigated nonsense! Here you are spoiling what might have been a delightful evening by working yourself77 up into a magnificent state of nerves, and over what, I ask you? Over nothing, over less than nothing! Poor old Derry telephones that he won’t be able to get out to-night because he’s been dragged in on some fool party, and you apparently interpret it into meaning that you’re never going to lay eyes on him again in this world. You’ve been restless as a witch all evening—every time a door’s slammed or a latch has rattled you’ve fairly leapt out of your skin; and permit me to inform you that you’re getting me so that I’m about to start leaping, too. Nice, cheerful atmosphere for the stranger within your gates, my child.”
“I’m awfully sorry, Hal. I’ll be good, truly. It’s only that——”
“Only what, for the love of Heaven? You aren’t expecting him back to-night, are you?”
“Well, of course, I know that he said he couldn’t possibly manage it, but he might—he can manage anything. And he wanted so dreadfully to see you; it’s been years, hasn’t it?”
“Three,” replied Devon concisely.
“Well, you see! And of course he’d want to see me dreadfully, because it’s been years since he’s seen me, too; we have breakfast at half-past seven. Isn’t that hideous? It takes him an hour to get into town; I do hate that. A whole hour away—think of it——”
78 “Anne, I blush for you; I do indeed. It’s embarrassing for any well-behaved bachelor to hear you talk. It’s sinful to lavish that amount of devotion on any man that lives.”
“Not on Derry.” The clear face was a little flushed, but the shining eyes met his unwaveringly. “You lavish it, too, Hal! I used to be bored to distraction by the tales that you’d pour out for hours on end about the fabulous student who was on his way back from Paris to spread havoc amongst the maidens of America. I used to laugh at you—remember?”
“Of course I remember.” The dark, ironic face was suddenly touched with a very charming smile. “That first evening that I brought him over after supper, and he talked until a quarter to one until he had everyone as excited as he was about things that we actually wouldn’t give a snap of our fingers for; I can see him standing by the mantel now, with every golden hair on his head ruffled up, and those crazy sherry-coloured eyes of his half mad with excitement, ranting like a Frenchman and laughing like a lunatic—I can see you with your face tilted up to him, forgetting that any of the rest of us were alive—— You had on a gray dress and someone had sent you white flowers, and you were wearing a long string of green beads that hung to your knees——”
79 “Hal, you’re making that up! Four years——”
“Is four years too long to remember green beads and white flowers? Perhaps you’re right! But it isn’t too long to remember Derry’s voice when he told us about the night that he and the drunken cab driver spent in the Louvre, is it? Shades of Gargantua, how that kid could laugh! After all, there’s never been any one else just like him, has there?”
“Not ever—oh, not ever. It’s the cruellest shame that he couldn’t be here now; he’d love it so, and you could have such a beautiful time reminiscing—oh, I can’t bear having him away on a night like this. When I went to the door just then those trees by the gate were straining like dogs on a leash, and the wind had wrenched a great branch off the lilac bush. I do hate November! And the rain like gray floods—and so cold, Hal. He oughtn’t to be out in that, truly. He ought to be here where he could play with us, where it’s warm and kind and—safe. Do you suppose they were motoring?”
“I don’t suppose anything at all. My dear girl, you aren’t going to start that all over again?”
“Ah, it’s frightfully silly, I know. Old married people—three-year-old married people—they oughtn’t to mind things like that. But it’s the first time that he’s been away all night, and I’m—oh, I’m ridiculous. Scold me, scold me hard!”
80 “You’re a very difficult person to scold, all things considered. It’s those unprincipled eyelashes, probably. First time in three years, honestly, Anne? Good Lord, it’s unbelievable!”
“Well, but my good child! Long Island and the twentieth century and the tottering state of holy matrimony—it’s simply defying the laws of gravity! Do you sit here hanging the crane every night of your lives?”
“Oh, Hal, you lovely idiot! Of course we don’t; we go out any amount and have people here a lot, and go in town, too. Only we happen to like each other—rather—and to like to play together—rather—so we just go ahead and do it. It’s simply happened that up to now nothing turned up that we couldn’t do together; of course it was bound to happen sooner or later. Of course I know that, Hal.” She leaned forward, the firelight painting flying shadows on the vivid, high-bred little face. “But I’m an utter goose about Derry. I feel empty when he isn’t around, and I don’t care who knows it.”
“A bit hard on the rest of us, isn’t it? Still, if it’s the same Derry that I practically bestowed on you at the altar I’m rather inclined to get your point of view. Not changed for the worse?”
“Changed for the better, thank you!” laughed81 Derry’s wife. “Better and better and better every minute, once removed from your sinister influence.” She smiled her gay affection at him, and then suddenly the smile wavered, faded—she sprang to her feet, trailing her blue-green draperies over to the long window.
“Don’t you hate that noise, Hal? No, listen. The rain’s out to drown the world, and that wind——” She shivered, staring out into the menacing blackness, raging like a wild beast on the other side of the lighted window. “Poor Hal, it’s going to be simply awful for you! It’s a good ten minutes’ walk to the club, and these back roads turn into mud soup if it even showers! I do think it’s a wicked shame.”
“Perhaps I’d better be getting on my way——”
“No, no!” There was a note of sheer panic in her voice, though she laughed it down valiantly. “Why, it can’t be eleven, and he isn’t going to call up till twelve. You simply have to entertain me; I won’t be abandoned yet. No, I mean it. Let’s start again—about Brazil. You were telling me about Brazil——”
“You aren’t even remotely interested in Brazil,” he accused. “But I’ll talk to you about any place from Peoria to Patagonia, if you’ll stop wandering about like a lost soul, and come back to the fire, like a good child.”
82 “Yes,” replied the good child obediently, dropping the curtain. “Does—does it seem cold to you in here, Hal?”
“Cold? It’s heavenly warm; if I were a cat I’d purr for you.”
“It feels—cold, to me,” said Anne Carver, spreading her hands before the leaping flames. “As though the wind had got in through the window somehow, and into my blood—and into my bones——”
“Nonsense,” said Devon sharply. “You got chilled standing over there; you’re an unconscionable goose, and I’m beginning to be strongly out of patience with you. Sit down and put your feet on the fender—want something over your shoulders?”
She shook her head, holding her hands closer to the fire.
“No, please—I’d rather not sit down just yet. It was the window, of course. Don’t be cross; I do want to hear the rest of that about Brazil. Some day I’m going there; some day I’m going to find a country where there’s no such time as autumn—no such month as November, full of dead leaves, and wind and cold—and emptiness. Tell me what’s prettiest there; there must be so many pretty things? Birds with shining feathers—butterflies like flowers—flowers like butterflies—gold83 like sunshine and sunshine like gold—oh, I’m warmer just for thinking of it! Tell me what was prettiest?”
“I saw nothing half so pretty as a lady with the lamplight falling about her, bending over pansies black as her hair in a bowl green as her eyes.”
“Oh!” She straightened swiftly, giving the flowers a last friendly touch, and facing him, lightly flushed, lightly reproachful. “Green, Hal? That’s not pretty at all—and it stands for something shameful.”
Devon raised quizzical eyebrows.
“Never felt the honest pangs of jealousy, Anne?”
“But how could I, even if I were capable of such cheapness and ugliness? I’ve never in my life cared for any one but Derry.”
“And Derry, lovely lady, would never give you cause?”
“Derry?” The startled incredulity of that cry rang into clear mirth. “Why, Hal, it may be difficult for you to believe, but Derry loves me.”
Devon tapped the ashes off his cigarette, and sat staring for a moment at the reddened tip.
“It doesn’t precisely strain my credulity to the breaking point,” he replied drily. “No, I can imagine that Derry might love you. It hardly requires any colossal stretch of imagination on my84 part, either. I’ve loved you myself for thirteen years.”
“Loved you with every drop of blood in my body. There’s no use looking stricken and melodramatic, Anne. I’ve never worried you much about it, have I?”
“No,” she whispered voicelessly.
“No. Well, then, don’t worry me about it now, there’s a good girl. I’m off for Ceylon to-morrow, and I haven’t the most remote intention of making a nuisance of myself to-night. You don’t have to remind me of the fact that Derry’s my best friend, that I was his best man, that you are his wife. I have an excellent memory for such trifling details myself. It’s only fair to add, however, that I wouldn’t give a tuppenny damn for the whole collection if it weren’t for one other.”
“Which other?” she asked, her eyes meeting his steadily, infinitely gentle and remote.
“The rather important one that you’re happy,” replied Devon evenly. “I came all the way back from Brazil to find out whether he was making you happy—and now I’m off to-morrow.”
“Happy is a poor word for what he has made me,” she said. “You should have known that, you who know Derry. Oh, Hal—oh, Hal, how could you?”
85 “It isn’t done, I know,” he assented. “It’s always the cad and the villain who is caught out making love to his friend’s wife at all hours of the night. But there’s a slight distinction in my favour, you see; I am loving you, not making love to you.”
“You’re hurting me,” she told him. “Pretty badly.”
“You have no right to be hurt. It’s nothing ugly that I am giving you. Out of pain and bitterness and despair I’ve wrought something rather fine; it isn’t like you to disdain it, my dear. Ever since you were a little girl with dark braids swinging to your waist, I’ve brought you presents; every corner of the earth I’ve ransacked just to have you touch those gifts with your fingers, and say, ‘That’s lovely, Hal—that’s lovely’—and smile. The only thing worth giving you was not in my power to bestow, but I wanted to make sure that you had it, no matter whose hands had held it out to you. Happiness is yours, Anne—I have nothing left to give you but my love. I swear to you that there is not one thing in it that gives you the right to say that it hurts you. Believe me, you can take it in your hands—and smile.”
“Yes. Yes, Hal.” She smiled at him, grave and misty-eyed—and he smiled back.
“Then that’s about all, my dear, and I’ll be86 going. It’s no hour at all for a poor bachelor to be awake. Good-night, Anne; sweet dreams to you.”
“Hal, I don’t want you to go—please, I don’t want you to go.” There was something so desperate in her low entreaty that he halted with lifted brows. “I know that it’s utterly foolish and unreasonable—and—and selfish, but I simply can’t bear to be left here alone until Derry calls me up. Please, please don’t leave me.”
“Very well.” He turned back to his chair slowly. “This isn’t like you, you know.”
“I know.” She sat staring down at her locked fingers. “It isn’t a bit like me; I haven’t any nerves at all, as a rule—not enough to make me sympathetic even. Derry says my lack of imagination is simply appalling—that unless I can see a thing or touch it or taste it or smell it or hear it, I simply won’t believe that it exists—that I don’t really believe that the world’s round, because it looks flat to me! He laughs about it, but I do honestly think that it worries him.”
“It generally worries Derry when someone doesn’t see things his way.” Devon smiled reminiscently.
“Well, you know how he is. He fully believes that they’re trying to signal to us from Mars, and he almost goes wild because no one pays any attention87 to the signals! He thinks that phonographs are much more incredible than Ouija boards, and that telephones are far more extraordinary than telepathy. It wouldn’t be any effort to Derry to believe that the world was shaped like a hat-box, with blue and green stripes and a nice little handle to carry it around!”
“You must be a great trial to him, Madame Materialist.”
“Oh, he wrings his hands over me. He says for any one to seem as spiritual and be as literal as I am is nothing more nor less than a swindle. Oh, oh, if he could see me to-night!”
“But will you be good enough to tell me what in the name of Heaven is the matter with you to-night?”
“I don’t know; I don’t know.” She drew a long breath, making a piteous effort to smile. “I’m—frightened.”
“Frightened of what?”
“I don’t know, I tell you.” She glanced about her with a long, despairing shiver. “Of the night—of the world—of the room—of—of everything.”
“The room! You know when you talk like that, Anne, you make me seriously consider ringing up a doctor. I don’t believe that all America holds a more delightful room—gayer or kinder or more friendly; it’s nothing short of a miracle what88 you’ve done to this old barn! It’s the most reassuring room I’ve ever set my foot in; you know, when you come into it with its fires and flowers and lights, you can almost hear it singing and laughing to itself, ‘Here—here dwells happiness.’”
“Oh, yes, you’re right—it has been happy.” Her eyes strayed over its treasures; the shelves warm and bright with books, with the beloved Lowestoft standing like flowers against the panelled cream of the walls, the lustre gleaming in blue and copper bravery along the firelit mantel, the glazed chintz holding out its prim nosegays proudly for all to see—the English prints on the walls echoing the gay warmth of the hooked rugs on the floor—she brought her haunted eyes back to Devon.
“It’s a pretty room,” she said in a strange little voice. “I do think it’s quite a pretty room. But do you know what it looks like to me to-night? To-night it looks to me like a corpse that someone had dressed in a flowered frock and a ribboned hat.”
“Anne!” His voice cracked out like a whip. “Now that’s enough; you’re to pull yourself together at once, or I’m going to call up the doctor. That’s an abominably morbid thing to say—it’s simply not healthy. I’m not joking, my dear; I have every intention of calling him up if you haven’t yourself in hand in the next five minutes.”
89 He leaned across to the table, drawing the shining black instrument closer toward him.
“D’you think I’m sick?” she asked piteously. “You know, I do think I must be sick. I’m so—I’m so dreadfully cold.”
“Here——” He rose abruptly. “Where’s your scarf?”
“No—no—it isn’t a scarf I want. I’m cold inside, dreadfully, dreadfully. It isn’t a scarf.”
“You’re worrying me badly, Anne. Look here, what is it? This party of Derry’s, honestly?”
“Yes, the party. It’s foolish, I know; I know—don’t say it, please—I know.”
“Well, but what about it? Did Derry seem worried himself? Did he sound upset?”
“No. He sounded—casual. As casual as—as casual as——” She made a little despairing gesture with her hand. “I can’t tell you how casual he sounded.”
“Well, then——”
“Well, then, but that’s it, Hal. Derry isn’t a bit a casual person, and here were you for the first time in three years—and here was I, and he knows how I loathe being left alone out here with the maids—and he sounded as though it were—nothing. Just nothing at all.”
“And is this honestly the mole-hill out of which you’ve built your mountain?”
90 “No—I don’t know; I can’t even explain it to myself—how could I explain it to you? It wasn’t anything tangible at first. Just a feeling of—of discomfort—something vague and not pleasant; I couldn’t even put my finger on it. I told myself that I was being silly and unreasonable—I did indeed. You mustn’t think that I enjoy this kind of thing. I hate it, I hate it.”
“But I’m so utterly at sea to account for this, my dear, and I want to help you. You’re tormenting yourself about something real if we could only put our finger on it. Something that Derry said or did that worried you; you can’t make me believe that you’ve manufactured all of this out of thin air! It’s too unlike you—why, ever since that first day I met you, a pale mite of a thing with great eyes and long braids, brave and proud and gentle in the midst of the rest of those young hoydens, I’ve found you exquisitely fair and adorably, adorably reasonable. No one’s ever been like you, Anne; you mustn’t wreck my world by showing me little clay feet to-night.”
“Trying to flatter me into being a good child? That’s dear of you, but oh, I’m beyond flattery. I’m making up for any past arrears of reason to-night, I promise you.”
“Well, then, let’s try to get to the bottom of it—hunt91 the good old subconscious into the open! Now what exactly was this famous telephone conversation, word for word?”
She turned her head restlessly.
“Oh, Hal, what does it matter? Very well—only I’ve told you once, you know. He said, ‘I’m awfully sorry, dear, but I won’t be able to get out this evening. Tell Hal that I’m sorry as the dickens, but that we can have lunch at the office to-morrow; one sharp. That’ll give him plenty of time to get off again on his globe-trotting.’ And I said, ‘But what time will you get out?’ He said, ‘Six-thirty to-morrow, as usual. I may bring Joe Carey along with me.’ I was so surprised that I almost lost my voice, Hal, and I said, ‘Why, Derry, not to-night?’ And he just laughed, and said, ‘No; I’ve ............
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