When the assistant in the history department announced to Professor Endicott his intention of spending several months in Paris to complete the research work necessary to his doctor’s dissertation, the head of the department looked at him with an astonishment so unflattering in its significance that the younger man laughed aloud.
“You didn’t think I had it in me to take it so seriously, did you, Prof?” he said, with his usual undisturbed and amused perception of the other’s estimate of him. “And you’re dead right, too! I’m doing it because I’ve got to, that’s all. It’s borne in on me that you can’t climb up very fast in modern American universities unless you’ve got a doctor’s degree, and you can’t be a Ph.D. without having dug around some in a European library. I’ve picked out a subject that needs just as little of that as any—you know as well as I do that right here in Illinois I can find out everything that’s worth knowing about the early French explorers of the Mississippi—but three months in the Archives in Paris ought to put a polish on my dissertation that will make even Columbia and Harvard sit up and blink. Am I right in my calculations?”
Professor Endicott’s thin shoulders executed a resigned shrug. “You are always right in your calculations, my dear Harrison,” he said; adding, with an ambiguous intonation, “And I suppose I am to salute in you the American scholar of the future.”
Harrison laughed again without resentment, and proceeded indulgently to reassure his chief. “No, sir, you needn’t be alarmed. There’ll always be enough American-born scholars to keep you from being lonesome, just as there’ll always be others like me, that don’t pretend to have a drop of real scholar’s blood in them. I want to teach!—to teach history!—American history!—teach it to fool young undergraduates who don’t know what kind of a country they’ve got, nor what they ought to make out of it, now they’ve got it. And I’m going in to get a Ph. D. the same way I wear a stiff shirt and collars and cuffs, not because I was brought up to believe in them as necessary to salvation—because I wasn’t, Lord knows!—but because there’s a prejudice in favor of them among the people I’ve got to deal with.” He drew a long breath and went on, “Besides, Miss Warner and I have been engaged about long enough. I want to earn enough to get married on, and Ph. D. means advancement.”
Professor Endicott assented dryly: “That is undoubtedly just what it means nowadays. But you will ‘advance,’ as you call it, under any circumstances. You will not remain a professor of history. I give you ten years to be president of one of our large Western universities.”
His accent made the prophecy by no means a compliment, but Harrison shook his hand with undiminished good-will. “Well, Prof, if I am, my first appointment will be to make you head of the history department with twice the usual salary, and only one lecture a week to deliver to a class of four P.G’s—post-graduates, you know. I know a scholar when I see one, if I don’t belong to the tribe myself, and I know how they ought to be treated.”
If, in his turn, he put into a neutral phrase an ironical significance, it was hidden by the hearty and honest friendliness of his keen, dark eyes as he delivered this farewell.
The older man’s ascetic face relaxed a little. “You are a good fellow, Harrison, and I’m sure I wish you any strange sort of success you happen to desire.”
“Same to you, Professor. If I thought it would do any good, I’d run down from Paris to Munich with a gun and try scaring the editor of the Central-Blatt into admitting that you’re right about that second clause in the treaty of Utrecht.”
Professor Endicott fell back into severity. “I’m afraid,” he observed, returning to the papers on his desk, “I’m afraid that would not be a very efficacious method of determining a question of historical accuracy.”
Harrison settled his soft hat firmly on his head. “I suppose you’re right,” he remarked, adding as he disappeared through the door, “But more’s the pity!”
He made short work of settling himself in Paris, taking a cheap furnished room near the Bibliothèque Nationale, discovering at once the inexpensive and nourishing qualities of crèmeries and the Duval restaurants, and adapting himself to the eccentricities of Paris weather in March with flannel underwear and rubber overshoes. He attacked the big folios in the library with ferocious energy, being the first to arrive in the huge, quiet reading-room, and leaving it only at the imperative summons of the authorities. He had barely enough money to last through March, April, and May, and, as he wrote in his long Sunday afternoon letters to Maggie Warner, he would rather work fifteen hours a day now while he was fresh at it, than be forced to, later on, when decent weather began, and when he hoped to go about a little and make some of the interesting historical pilgrimages in the environs of Paris.
He made a point of this writing his fiancée every detail of his plans, as well as all the small happenings of his monotonous and laborious life; and so, quite naturally, he described to her the beginning of his acquaintance with Agatha Midland.
“I’d spotted her for English,” he wrote, “long before I happened to see her name on a notebook. Don’t it sound like a made-up name out of an English novel? And that is the way she looks, too. I understand now why no American girl is ever called Agatha. To fit it you have to look sort of droopy all over, as if things weren’t going to suit you, but you couldn’t do anything to help it, and did not, from sad experience, have any rosy hopes that somebody would come along to fix things right. I’m not surprised that when English women do get stirred up over anything—for instance, like voting, nowadays—they fight like tiger-cats. If this Agatha-person is a fair specimen, they don’t look as though they were used to getting what they want any other way. But here I go, like every other fool traveler, making generalizations about a whole nation from seeing one specimen. On the other side of me from Miss Midland usually sits an old German, grubbing away at Sanskrit roots. The other day we got into talk in the little lunchroom here in the same building with the library, where all we readers go to feed, and he made me so mad I couldn’t digest my bread and milk. Once, just once, when he was real young, he met an American woman student—a regular P. G. freak, I gather—and nothing will convince him that all American girls aren’t like her. ‘May God forgive Christopher Columbus!’ he groans whenever he thinks of her….”
There was no more in this letter about his English neighbor, but in the next, written a week later, he said:
“We’ve struck up an acquaintance, the discouraged-looking English girl and I, and she isn’t so frozen-up as she seems. This is how it happened. I told you about the little lunchroom where the readers from the library get their noonday feed. Well, a day or so ago I was sitting at the next table to her, and when she’d finished eating and felt for her purse, I saw her get pale, and I knew right off she’d lost her money. ‘If you’ll excuse me, Miss Midland,’ I said, ‘I’ll be glad to loan you a little. My name is Harrison, Peter Harrison, and I usually sit next you in the reading-room.’ Say, Maggie, you don’t know how queerly she looked at me. I can’t tell you what her expression was like, for I couldn’t make head or tail out of it. It was like looking at a Hebrew book that you don’t know whether to read backward or forward. She got whiter, and drew away and said something about ‘No! No! she couldn’t think——’ But there stood the waiter with his hand out. I couldn’t stop to figure out if she was mad or scared. I said ‘Look-y-here, Miss Midland, I’m an American—here’s my card—I just want to help you out, that’s all. You needn’t be afraid I’ll bother you any.’ And with that I asked the waiter how much it was, paid him, and went out for my usual half-hour constitutional in the little park opposite the library.
“When I went back to the reading-room, she was there in the seat next me, all right, but my, wasn’t she buried in a big folio! She’s studying in some kind of old music-books. You would have laughed to see how she didn’t know I existed. I forgot all about her till closing-up time, but when I got out in the court a little ahead of her, I found it was raining and blowing to beat the cars, and I went back to hunt her up, I being the only person that knew she was broke. There she was, moping around in the vestibule under one of those awful pancake hats English women wear. I took out six cents—it costs that to ride in the omnibuses here—and I marched up to her. ‘Miss Midland,’ I said, ‘excuse me again, but the weather is something terrible. You can’t refuse to let me loan you enough to get home in a ‘bus, for you would certainly catch your death of cold, not to speak of spoiling your clothes, if you tried to walk in this storm.’
“She looked at me queerly again, drew in her chin, and said very fierce, ‘No, certainly not! Some one always comes to fetch me away.’
“Of course I didn’t believe a word of that! It was just a bluff to keep from seeming to need anything. So I smiled at her and said, ‘That’s all right, but suppose something happens this evening so he doesn’t get here. I guess you’d better take the six sous—they won’t hurt you any.’ And I took hold of her hand, put the coppers in it, shut her fingers, took off my hat, and skipped out before she could get her breath. There are a few times when women are so contrary you can’t do the right thing by them without bossing them around a little.
“Well, I thought sure if she’d been mad at noon she’d just be hopping mad over that last, but the next morning she came up to me in the vestibule and smiled at me, the funniest little wavery smile, as though she were trying on a brand-new expression. It made her look almost pretty. ‘Good morning, Mr. Harrison,’ she said in that soft, singsong tone English women have, ‘here is your loan back again. I hope I have the sum you paid for my lunch correct—and thank you very much.’
“I hated to take her little money, for her clothes are awfully plain and don’t look as though she had any too much cash, but of course I did, and even told her that I’d given the waiter a three-cent tip she’d forgotten to figure in. When you can, I think it’s only the square thing to treat women like human beings with sense, and I knew how I’d feel about being sure I’d returned all of a loan from a stranger. ‘Oh, thank you for telling me,’ she said, and took three more coppers out of her little purse; and by gracious! we walked into the reading-room as friendly as could be.
“That was last Wednesday, and twice since then we’ve happened to take lunch at the same table, and have had a regular visit. It tickles me to see how scared she is yet of the idea that she’s actually talking to a real man that hasn’t been introduced to her, but I find her awfully interesting, she’s so different.”
During the week that followed this letter, matters progressed rapidly. The two Anglo-Saxons took lunch together every day, and by Friday the relations between them were such that, as they pushed back their chairs, Harrison said: “Excuse me, Miss Midland, for seeming to dictate to you all the time, but why in the world don’t you go out after lunch and take a half-hour’s walk as I do? It’d be a lot better for your health.”
The English girl looked at him with the expression for which he had as yet found no word more adequately descriptive than his vague “queer.” “I haven’t exactly the habit of walking about Paris streets alone, you know,” she said.
“Oh, yes, to be sure,” returned the American. “I remember hearing that young ladies can’t do that here the way they do back home. But that’s easy fixed. You won’t be out in the streets, and you won’t be alone, if you come out with me in the little park opposite. Come on! It’s the first spring day.”
Miss Midland dropped her arms with a gesture of helpless wonder. “Well, really!” she exclaimed. “Do you think that so much better?” But she rose and prepared to follow him, as if her protest could not stand before the kindly earnestness of his manner. “There!” he said, after he had guided her across the street into the tiny green square where in the sudden spring warmth, the chestnut buds were already swollen and showing lines of green. “To answer your question, I think it not only better, but absolutely all right—O. K!”
They were sitting on a bench at one side of the fountain, whose tinkling splash filled the momentary silence before she answered, “I can’t make it all out—” she smiled at him—”but I think you are right in saying that it is all O.K.” He laughed, and stretched out his long legs comfortably. “You’ve got the idea. That’s the way to get the good of traveling and seeing other kinds of folks. You learn my queer slang words, and I’ll learn yours.”
Miss Midland stared again, and she cried out, “My queer slang words! What can you mean?”
He rattled off a glib list: “Why, ‘just fancy now,’ and ‘only think of that!’ and ‘I dare say, indeed,’ and a lot more.”
“But they are not queer!” she exclaimed.
“They sound just as queer to me as ‘O.K.’ and ‘I guess’ do to you!” he said triumphantly.
She blinked her eyes rapidly, as though taking in an inconceivable idea, while he held her fixed with a steady gaze which lost none of its firmness by being both good-humored and highly amused. Finally, reluctantly, she admitted, “Yes, I see. You mean I’m insular.”
“Oh, as to that, I mean we both are—that is, we are as ignorant as stotin’-bottles of each other’s ways of doing things. Only I want to find out about your ways, and you don’t about——”
She broke in hastily, “Ah, but I do want to find out about yours! You—you make me very curious indeed.” As she said this, she looked full at him with a grave simplicity which was instantly reflected on his own face.
“Well, Miss Midland,” he said slowly, “maybe now’s a good time to say it, and maybe it’s a good thing to say, since you don’t know about our ways—to give you a sort of declaration of principles. I wasn’t brought up in very polite society—my father and mother were Iowa farmer-folks, and I lost them early, and I’ve had to look out for myself ever since I was fourteen, so I’m not very long on polish; but let me tell you, as they say about other awkward people, I mean well. We’re both poor students working together in a foreign country, and maybe I can do something to make it pleasanter for you, as I would for a fellow-student woman in my country. If I can, I’d like to, fine! I want to do what’s square by everybody, and by women specially. I don’t think they get a fair deal mostly. I think they’ve got as much sense as men, and lots of them more, and I like to treat them accordingly. So don’t you mind if I do some Rube things that seem queer to you, and do remember that you can be dead sure that I never mean any harm.”
He finished this speech with an urgent sincerity in his voice, quite different from his usual whimsical note, and for a moment they looked at each other almost solemnly, the girl’s lips parted, her blue eyes wide and serious. She flushed a clear rose-pink. “Why!” she said, “Why, I believe you!” Harrison broke the tension with a laugh. “And what is there so surprising if you do?”
“I don’t think,” she said slowly, “that I ever saw any one before whom I would believe if he said that last.”
“Dear me!” cried Harrison, gaily, getting to his feet. “You’ll make me think you are a hardened cynic. Well, if you believe me, that’s all right! And now, come on, let’s walk a little, and you tell me why English people treat their girls so differently from their boys. You are a perfect gold mine of information to me, do you know it?”
“But I’ve always taken for granted most of the things you find so queer about our ways. I thought that was the way they were, don’t you see, by the nature of things.”
“Aha!” he said triumphantly. “You see another good of traveling! It stirs a person up. If you can give me a lot of new facts, maybe I can pay you back by giving you some new ideas.”
“I think,” said Miss Midland, with a soft energy, “I think you can, indeed.”
A week after this was the first of April, and when Harrison, as was his wont, reached the reading-room a little before the opening hour, he found a notice on the door to the effect that the fall of some plastering from a ceiling necessitated the closing of the reading-room for that day. A week of daily lunches and talks with Miss Midland had given him the habit of communicating his ideas to her, and he waited inside the vestibule for her to appear. He happened thus, as he had not before, to see her arrival. Accompanied by an elderly person in black, who looked, even to Harrison’s inexperienced eyes, like a maid-servant, she came rapidly in through the archway which led from the street to the court. Here, halting a moment, she dismissed her attendant with a gesture, and, quite unconscious of the young man’s gaze upon her, crossed the court diagonally with a free, graceful step. Observing her thus at his leisure, Harrison was moved to the first and almost the last personal comment upon his new friend. He did not as a rule notice very keenly the outward aspect of his associates. “Well, by gracious,” he said to himself, “if she’s not quite a good-looker!—or would be if she had money or gumption enough to put on a little more style!”
He took a sudden resolution and, meeting her at the foot of the steps, laid his plan enthusiastically before her. It took her breath away. “Oh, no, I couldn’t,” she exclaimed, looking about her helplessly as if foreseeing already that she would yield. “What would people——?”
“Nobody would say a thing, because nobody would know about it. We could go and get back here by the usual closing time, so that whoever comes for you would never suspect—she’s not very sharp, is she?”
“No, no. She’s only what you would call my hired girl.”
On the way out he proposed, with the same thrifty motive, that they buy provisions in the town, before they began their sight-seeing in the chateau, and eat a picnic lunch somewhere in the park.
“Oh, anything you please now!” she answered with reckless light-heartedness. “I’m quite lost already.”
“There’s nothing disreputable about eating sandwiches on the grass,” he assured her; and indeed, when they spread their simple provision out under the great pines back of the Trianon, she seemed to agree with him, eating with a hearty appetite, laughing at all his jokes, and, with a fresh color and sparkling eyes, telling him that she had never enjoyed a meal more.
“Good for you! That’s because you work too hard at your old history of music.”—By this time each knew all the details of the other’s research—”You ought to have somebody right at hand to make you take vacations and have a good time once in a while. You’re too conscientious.”
Then, because he was quite frank and unconscious himself, he went on with a simplicity which the most accomplished actor could not have counterfeited, “That’s what I’m always telling Maggie—Miss Warner. She’s the girl I’m engaged to.”
He did not at the time remark, but afterward, in another land, he was to recall with startling vividness the quick flash of her clear eyes upon him and the fluttering droop of her eyelids. She finished her éclair quietly, remarking, “So you are engaged?”
“Very much so,” answered Harrison, leaning his back against the pine-tree and closing his eyes, more completely to savor the faint fragrance of new life which rose about them in the warm spring air, like unseen incense.
Miss Midland stood up, shaking the crumbs from her skirt, and began fitting her gloves delicately upon her slim and very white hands. After a pause, “But how would she like this?” she asked.
Without opening his eyes, Harrison murmured, “She’d like it fine. She’s a great girl for outdoors.”
His companion glanced down at him sharply, but in his tranquil and half-somnolent face there was no trace of evasiveness. “I don’t mean the park, the spring weather,” she went on, with a persistence which evidently cost her an effort. “I mean your being here with another girl. That would make an English woman jealous.”
Harrison opened his dark eyes wide and looked at her in surprise. “You don’t understand—we’re not flirting with each other, Maggie and I—we’re engaged.” He added with an air of proffering a self-evident explanation, “As good as married, you know.”
Miss Midland seemed to find in the statement a great deal of material for meditation, for after an “Ah!” which might mean anything, she sat down on the other side of the tree, leaning her blonde head against its trunk and staring up into the thick green branches. Somewhere near them in an early-flowering yellow shrub a bee droned softly. After a time she remarked as if to herself, “They must take marriage very seriously in Iowa.”
The young man aroused himself, to answer sleepily: “It’s Illinois where I live now—Iowa was where I grew up—but it’s all the same. Yes, we do.”
After that there was another long, fragrant silence which lasted until Harrison roused himself with a sigh, exclaiming that although he would like nothing better than to sit right there till he took root, they had yet to “do” the two Trianons and to see the state carriages. During this sightseeing tour he repeated his performance of the morning in the chateau, pouring out a flood of familiar, quaintly expressed historical lore of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which made his astonished listener declare he must have lived at that time.
“Nope!” he answered her. “Got it all out of Illinois libraries. Books are great things if you’re only willing to treat them right. And history—by gracious! history is a study fit for the gods! All about folks, and they are all that are worth while in the world!”
They were standing before the Grand Trianon as he said this, waiting for the tram car, and as it came into sight he cried out artlessly, his dark, aquiline face glowing with fervor, “I—I just love folks!”
She looked at him curiously. “In all my life I never knew any one before to say or think that.” Some of his enthusiasm was reflected upon her own fine, thoughtful face as a sort of wistfulness when she added, “It must make you very happy. I wish I could feel so.”
“You don’t look at them right,” he protested.
She shook her head. “No, we haven’t known the same kind. I had never even heard of the sort of people you seem to have known.”
The tram car came noisily up to them, and no more was said.
A notice posted the following day to the effect that for some time the reading-room would be closed one day in the week for repairs, gave Harrison an excuse for insisting on weekly repetitions of what he called their historical picnics.
Miss Midland let herself be urged into these with a half-fearful pleasure which struck the young American as pathetic. “Anybody can see she’s had mighty few good times in her life,” he told himself. They “did” Fontainebleau, Pierrefonds, Vincennes, and Chantilly—this last expedition coming in the first week of May, ten days before Miss Midland was to leave Paris. They were again favored by wonderfully fine spring weather, so warm that the girl appeared in a light-colored cotton gown and a straw hat which, as her friend told her, with the familiarity born of a month of almost uninterrupted common life, made her look “for all the world like a picture.”
After their usual conscientious and minute examination of the objects of historical interest, they betook themselves with their lunch-basket to a quiet corner of the park, by a clear little stream, on the other side of which a pair of white swans were building a nest. It was very still, and what faint breeze there was barely stirred the trees. The English girl took off her hat, and the sunlight on her blonde hair added another glory to the spring day.
They ate their lunch with few words, and afterward sat in what seemed to the American the most comfortable and companionable of silences, idly watching a peacock unfold the flashing splendor of his plumage before the old gray fountain. “My! My! My!” he murmured finally. “Isn’t the world about the best place!”
The girl did not answer, and, glancing at her, he was startled to see that her lips were quivering. “Why, Miss Midland!” he cried anxiously. “Have you had bad news?”
She shook her head. “Nothing new.”
“What’s the matter?” he asked, coming around in front of her. “Perhaps I can help you even if it’s only to give some good advice.”
She looked up at him with a sudden flash. “I suppose that, since you are so much engaged, you think you would make a good father-confessor!”
“I don’t see that that has anything to do with it,” he said, sitting down beside her, “but you can bank on me for doing anything I can.”
“You don’t see that that has anything to do with it,” she broke in sharply, with the evident intention of wounding him, “because you are very unworldly, what is usually called very unsophisticated.”
If she had thought to pique him with this adjective, she was disarmed by the heartiness of his admission, “As green as grass! But I’d like to help you all the same, if I can.”
“You don’t care if you are?” she asked curiously.
“Lord no! What does it matter?”
“You may care then to know,” she went on, still probing at him, “that your not caring is the principal reason for my—finding you interesting—for my liking you—as I do.”
“Well, I’m interested to know that,” he said reasonably, “but blessed if I can see why. What difference does it make to you?”
“It’s a great surprise to me,” she said clearly. “I never met anybody before who didn’t care more about being sophisticated than about anything else. To have you not even think of that—to have you think of nothing but your work and how to ‘mean well’ as you say——” she stopped, flushing deeply.
“Yes, it must be quite a change,” he admitted sobered by her tone, but evidently vague as to her meaning. “Well, I’m very glad you don’t mind my being as green as grass and as dense as a hitching-block. It’s very lucky for me.”
A quick bitterness sprang into her voice. “I don’t see,” she echoed his phrase, “what difference it makes to you!”
“Don’t you?” he said, lighting a cigarette and not troubling himself to discuss the question with her. She was evidently all on edge with nerves, he thought, and needed to be calmed down. He pitied women for their nerves, and was always kindly tolerant of the resultant petulances.
She frowned and said with a tremulous resentment, as if gathering herself together for a long-premediated attempt at self-defense. “You’re not only as green as grass, but you perceive nothing,—any European, even the stupidest, would perceive what you—but you are as primitive as a Sioux Indian, you have the silly morals of a non-conformist preacher,—you’re as brutal as——”
He opposed to this outburst the impregnable wall of a calm and meditative silence. She looked angrily into his quiet eyes, which met hers with unflinching kindness. The contrast between their faces was striking—was painful.
She said furiously, “There is nothing to you except that you are stronger than I, and you know it—and that is brutal!” She paused a long moment, quivering, and then relapsed into spent, defeated lassitude,—”and I like it,” she added under her breath, looking down at her hands miserably.
“I don’t mean to be brutal,” he said peaceably. “I’m sorry if I am.”
“Oh, it’s no matter!” she said impatiently.
“All right, have it your own way,” he agreed, good-naturedly, shifting into a more comfortable position, and resuming his patient silence. He might have been a slightly pre-occupied but indulgent parent, waiting for a naughty child to emerge from a tantrum.
After a while, “Well, then,” she began as though nothing had passed between them since his offer to give her advice, “well then, if you want to be father-confessor, tell me what you’d do in my place, if your family expected you as a matter of course to—to——”
“What do they want you to do?” he asked as she hesitated.
“Oh, nothing that they consider at all formidable! Only what every girl should do—make a good and suitable marriage, and bring up children to go on doing what she had found no joy in.”
“Don’t you do it!” he said quietly. “Nobody believes more than I do in marrying the right person. But just marrying so’s to be married—that’s Tophet! Red-hot Tophet!”
“But what else is there for me to do?” she said, turning her eyes to him with a desperate hope in his answer. “Tell me! My parents have brought me up so that there is nothing I can fill my life with, if—I think, on the whole, I will be more miserable if I don’t than if I——”
“Why, look-y-here!” he said earnestly. “You’re not a child, you’re a grown woman. You have your music. You could earn your living by that. Great Scott! Earn your living scrubbing floors before you——”
She put her handkerchief to her eyes. “Ah, but I am so alone against all my world! Now, here, with you, it seems easy but—without any one to sustain me, to——”
Harrison went on: “Now let me give you a rule I believe in as I do in the sun’s rising. Never marry a man just because you think you could manage to live with him. Don’t do it unless you are dead sure you couldn’t live without him!”
She took down her handkerchief, showing a white face, whose expression matched the quaver in her voice, as she said breathlessly: “But how if I meet a man and feel I cannot live without him, and he is already—” she brought it out squarely in the sunny peace,—”if he is already as good as married!”
He took it with the most single-hearted simplicity. “Now it’s you who are unsophisticated and getting your ideas from fool novels. Things don’t happen that way in real life. Either the man keeps his marriage a secret, in which case he is a sneak and not worth a second thought from any decent woman, or else, if she had known all along that he was married, she doesn’t get to liking him that way. Don’t you see?”
She looked away, down the stream for a moment with inscrutable eyes, and then broke into an unexpected laugh, rising at the same time and putting on her hat. “I see, yes, I see,” she said. “It is as you say, quite simple. And now let us go to visit the rest of the park.”
The next excursion was to be their last, and Miss Midland had suggested a return to Versailles to see the park in its spring glory. They lunched in a little inclosure, rosy with the pink and white magnolia blossoms, where the uncut grass was already ankle-deep and the rose-bushes almost hid the gray stone wall with the feathery abundance of their first pale green leaves. From a remark of the girl’s that perhaps this was the very spot where Marie Antoinette had once gathered about her gay court of pseudo-milkmaids, they fell into a discussion of that queen’s pretty pastoral fancy. Harrison showed an unexpected sympathy with the futile, tragic little merrymaker.
“I expect she got sick and tired of being treated like a rich, great lady, and wanted to see what it would feel like to be a human being. The king is always disguising himself as a goat-herd to make sure he can be loved for his own sake.”
“But those stories are all so monotonous!” she said impatiently. “The king always is made to find out that the shepherdess does love him for his own sake. What would happen if she wouldn’t look at him?”
Harrison laughed, “Well, by George, I never thought of that. I should say if he cared enough about her to want his own way, he’d better get off his high-horse and say, ‘Look-y-here, I’m not the common ordinary mutt I look. I’m the king in disguise. Now will you have me?”
Miss Midland looked at him hard. “Do you think it likely the girl would have him then?”
“Don’t you?” he said, still laughing, and tucking away the last of a foie-gras sandwich.
She turned away, frowning, “I don’t see how you can call me cynical!”
He raised his eyebrows, “That’s not cynical,” he protested. “You have to take folks the way they are, and not the way you think it would be pretty to have them. It mightn’t be the most dignified position for the king, but I never did see the use of dignity that got in the way of your having what you wanted.”
She looked at him with so long and steady a gaze that only her patent absence of mind kept it from being a stare. Then, “I think I will go for a walk by myself,” she said.
“Sure, if you want to,” he assented, “and I’ll take a nap under this magnolia tree. I’ve been working late nights, lately.”
When she came back after an hour, the little inclosure was quite still, and, walking over to the magnolia, she saw that the young man had indeed fallen soundly asleep, one arm under his head, the other flung wide, half buried in the grass. For a long time she looked down gravely at the powerful body, at the large, sinewy hand, relaxed like a sleeping child’s, at the eagle-like face, touchingly softened by its profound unconsciousness.
Suddenly the dark eyes opened wide into hers. The young man gave an exclamation and sat up, startled. At this movement she looked away, smoothing a fold of her skirt. He stared about him, still half-asleep. “Did I hear somebody call?” he asked. “I must have had a very vivid dream of some sort—I thought somebody was calling desperately to me. You didn’t speak, did you?”
“No,” she answered softly, “I said nothing.”
“Well, I hope you’ll excuse me for being such poor company. I only meant to take a cat-nap. I hope we won’t be too late for the train.”
He scrambled to his feet, his eyes still heavy with sleep, and pulled out his watch. As he did this, Miss Midland began to speak very rapidly. What she said was so astonishing to him that he forgot to put back his watch, forgot even to look at it, and stood with it in his hand, staring at her, with an expression as near to stupefaction as his keen and powerful face could show.
When she finally stopped to draw breath, the painful breath of a person who has been under water too long, he broke into baroque ejaculations, “Well, wouldn’t that get you! Wouldn’t that absolutely freeze you to a pillar of salt! Well, of all the darndest idiots, I’ve been the——” With Miss Midland’s eyes fixed on him, he broke into peal after peal of his new-world laughter, his fresh, crude, raw, inimitably vital laughter, “I’m thinking of the time I loaned you the franc and a half for your lunch, and hated to take it back because I thought you needed it—and you rich enough to buy ten libraries to Andy’s one! Say, how did you keep your face straight!”
Miss Midland apparently found no more difficulty in keeping a straight face now than then. She did not at all share his mirth. She was still looking at him with a strained gaze as though she saw him with difficulty, through a mist increasingly smothering. Finally, as though the fog had grown quite too thick, she dropped her eyes, and very passive, waited for his laughter to stop.
When it did, and the trees which had looked down on Marie Antoinette had ceased echoing to the loud, metallic, and vigorous sound, he noticed his watch still in his hand. He glanced at it automatically, thrust it back into his pocket and exclaimed, quite serious again, “Look-y-here. We’ll have to step lively if we are going to catch that train back to Paris, Miss Midland—Lady Midland, I mean,—Your highness—what do they call the daughter of an Earl? I never met a real live member of the aristocracy before.”
She moved beside him as he strode off towards the gate. “I am usually called Lady Agatha,” she answered, in a flat tone.
“How pretty that sounds!” he said heartily, “Lady Agatha! Lady Agatha! Why don’t we have some such custom in America?” He tried it tentatively. “Lady Marietta—that’s my mother’s name—don’t seem to fit altogether does it? Lady Maggie—Oh, Lord! awful! No, I guess we’d better stick to Miss and Mrs. But it does fit Agatha fine!”
She made no rejoinder. She looked very tired and rather stern.
After they were on the train, she said she had a headache and preferred not to talk and, ensconcing herself in a corner of the compartment, closed her eyes. Harrison, refreshed by the outdoor air and his nap, opened his notebook and began puzzling over a knotty point in one of the French Royal Grants to LaSalle which he was engaged at the time in deciphering. Once he glanced up to find his companion’s eyes open and fixed on him. He thought to himself that her headache must be pretty bad, and stirred himself to say with his warm, friendly accent, “It’s a perfect shame you feel so miserable! Don’t you want me to open the window? Wouldn’t you like my coat rolled up for a pillow? Isn’t there something I can do for you?”
She looked at him, and closing her lips, shook her head.
Later, in the midst of a struggle over an archaic law-form, the recollection of his loan to his fellow-student darted into his head. He laid down his notebook to laugh again. She turned her head and looked a silent question. “Oh, it’s just that franc and a half!” he explained. “I’ll never get over that as long as I live!”
She pulled down her veil and turned away from him again.
When they reached Paris, he insisted that she take a carriage and go home directly. “I’ll go on to the reading-room and explain to your hired girl that you were sick and couldn’t wait for her.” Before he closed her into the cab he added, “But, look here! I won’t see you again, will I? I forgot you are going back to England to-morrow. Well, to think of this being good-bye! I declare, I hate to say it!” He held out his hand and took her cold fingers in his. “Well, Miss Midland, I tell you there’s not a person in the world who can wish you better luck than I do. You’ve been awfully good to me, and I appreciate it, and I do hope that if there’s ever any little thing I can do for you, you’ll let me know. I surely am yours to command.”
The girl’s capacity for emotion seemed to be quite exhausted, for she answered nothing to this quaint valedictory beyond a faint, “Good-by, Mr. Harrison, I hope you——” but she did not finish the sentence.