In this installment, watch for Emilie Loring to introduce places she knew in Blue Hill, Maine: Blue Hill mountain and Bay, Stone House, the Owen sisters’ tea house, and Emilie’s second cottage, “The Ledges.“
Last week: Anthony Vance is jilted on the day of his wedding and will lose his inheritance, if he is not married by noon. He offers Hope Damon, a total stranger whom he sees in the Park, one hundred thousand dollars, if she will marry him. She agrees. The money will let her be independent of her brother–and get away from her unfriendly sister-in-law. Their wedding is about to begin…
Gilman blew his nose furiously and laid his hand on Vance’s shoulder. The clergyman wiped his spectacles and unfolded the license he held. He pressed a bell. There was absolute stillness in the room until the maid knocked.
“Ask Mrs. Harley to come to the living-room,” he ordered, then, when she had closed the door, he turned to Hope.
“You are quite sure, my dear, that you are wise to do this thing? I have argued with Anthony, but to no avail. It is a mad project which you two are contemplating. Marriage is serious enough anyway, but without love–“
“But this is so little of a mar–” began Hope, then stopped quickly as Vance looked at her warningly. She colored, looked from one to the other uncertainly for a moment, then said steadily:
“Before the ceremony is performed I want to have a distinct understanding in regard to the settlement which Mr. Vance offered me.”
Gilman groaned. He glanced at Harley, who was staring with a now-it’s-coming look at Vance. The latter, with arms folded across his chest, leaned against a table. His rigid face gave no hint of the stab of pain which the girl’s bald statement had given him.
Hope continued: “Mr. Vance offered to settle a hundred thousand dollars on me if I would marry him.” Gilman gave a low, incredulous whistle. He and Harley were palpably anxious and suspicious. Vance gazed at her with inscrutable eyes. She drew a long, tremendous breath, then hurried on:
“Before the ceremony is performed I want it understood and agreed that he is to pay me but five thousand.”
There was absolute silence for a moment in the room, then came a stifled groan of relief from Gilman, a little murmur of approval from the unworldly Harley and a thundering “No!” from Vance. The latter strode toward the girl.
“That can’t be done! You are to take what I agreed to pay,” he announced with rough decision.
A pair of eyes quite as determined as his own met his. There was dauntless courage in Hope Damon’s look as she faced him.
“The settlement must be as I state or I refuse to keep my part of the compact,” she insisted staunchly. “Five thousand dollars will give me the capital I need to start an enterprise which I know will make me independent. I shall be very glad to have that. I am glad of the chance to help you, but I cannot and will not take more.”
There was infinite decision in that “will not.”
“But,” protested Vance.
The girl laid her hand on his sleeve. The expression in her dark eyes changed to appeal. Vance stared down into them in troubled, fascinated wonder.
“Please let me have my way. I want to keep my self-respect.” For the first time the musical voice trembled.
Perplexed, uncertain, Vance shrugged his shoulders. “I agree, only on condition though that you solemnly promise that if ever you are in the slightest difficulty you will let Mr. Gilman or–or me know”
Hope held out her hand. “I promise,” she said steadily. She looked up into his eyes. There was furtive laughter lurking in hers. Her lips curved into a suspicion of a smile.
“After all, aren’t we making rather a tragedy of this compact of ours? Why shouldn’t I come to you for help? Can’t we be friends, though married?” A little laugh bubbled up which was perilously near a sob.
The cloud of anger, sorrow and disillusionment in which the man had been groping for the last few hours seemed to part and roll away. He gripped her hand until it hurt as he said dazedly:
“Friends? Friends? Why, of course!”
Mrs. Harley met them when they entered the living-room. She tried to keep keen sympathy for Vance out of her voice, tried to greet the girl cordially. Her husband had given her but a word of explanation in the moment which he had had with her. She was a woman whose mind worked slowly, and before she had progressed beyond wondering how Cecile Talmadge could prefer dark, sinister looking Wilfred Logan to sunny, handsome Anthony Vance, her husband was saying solemnly, tenderly:
“I pronounce you man and wife.”
In the stillness which followed the close of the little ceremony, Hope stood for a moment stunned. She held the roses clutched in her right arm, held them so tightly that the crushed petals gave out a fragrance which turned her sick and giddy for a moment. For one horrible instant she thought that she was going to faint.
She bit her lips till the pain flushed her face with color again. Her brain steadied. Vance was speaking to her.
“We will drive to Mr. Gilman’s office and sign the settlements, then I will take you wherever you want to go.”
As in a dream she shook hands with the clergyman and his wife, tried to respond intelligently to their good wishes, then followed Vance to the automobile.
In Gilman’s office Vance made one more appeal to be allowed to increase the consideration. Hope looked at him with grave eyes.
“You promised,” she said softly.
When John Gilman handed her the signed papers she thrust them into the pocket of her coat, then held out her hand to the attorney.
“Good morning and thank you, Mr. Gilman,” she said with gracious charm, “and now, to make your mind a little easier about your ward, I’ll tell you that I am the sister of your physician, Jim Damon.”
The lawyer stared at the girl. Drops of moisture started on his smooth, red forehead.
“Well, I’ll be–” he exploded. “What won’t Dr. Jim do to me! I didn’t know he had a sister! He’s such a close-mouthed chap you can’t get anything out of him,” he growled. He looked for a moment at Hope’s beautiful face, then shook his head. “It’s too late now! I’ll have to take what’s coming to me, but, if you’d told me before–“
He patted the hand he held gently. “Mrs. Vance, I have known the man you’ve married all his life. I’ve helped pull him out of all sorts of harmless, boyish scrapes, but this time I have helped land him in one which will have all the others licked to a finish. He is numb with anger now, but he’ll come to with a bump. Good morning, my dear. Don’t forget that you have promised to come to me if you need help. You’ll find me here, unless I’m dodging Dr. Jim,” he added with a chuckle.
There was a tremor in Hope’s voice as she gave her address, which made Vance look at her keenly.
“You’re not sorry–” he began abruptly.
She didn’t trust herself to speak again until they reached the apartment house in which her brother made his home. At the door she held out her right hand. Her left pressed the roses tightly to her breast.
“Good-bye!” she said.
Anthony Vance looked at her face, then at the hand which held the flowers. A dull flush spread to his forehead.
“Why, you haven’t any ring! Why didn’t Harley remind me? I’ll bring you one before I go!”
Before the girl could protest, he sprang into his car and drove it furiously down the street.
At eight o’clock that evening Anthony Vance rang the bell of the Damon apartment. There was no response to his repeated summons. He hunted up the janitor. In reply to his inquiries, the man answered:
“The family left this afternoon and the doctor won’t be back tonight. No, I don’t know where they be! Believe me, all I’ve done this evening has been to answer reporter fellers on the ‘phone. I’ll be hanged if I know what’s happened to the family!”
Vance knew. The papers had featured his sudden marriage. He turned away. The least he could do was to help the girl escape notoriety. From the nearest telephone booth he called up the office of a morning paper.
The next day, in inconspicuous type, appeared the announcement that Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Vance had started across the continent, en route for Japan.
It was just one year and three months before Mr. Anthony Vance returned to New York again. He strolled into Gilman’s office one afternoon about the first of August.
“Bless my soul, Tony!” explained that explosive gentleman, “why don’t you give us a warning? You drop down like a bomb.”
He shook his caller’s hand warmly as he spoke. “You seem very fit,” he added, as he noted the young man’s bronze skin, the clearness of his eyes, the steadiness of his hand. He nodded approvingly. “Have you come back ready to settle down and be a good citizen? There’s a chance for a state senator from your uncle’s district.”
He laid his hand on Vance’s knee as he said impressively: “I’d like like the dickens to see you lick one of the present candidates, Wilfred Logan. And by the way, he’s single yet.”
Vance’s gray eyes narrowed.
“What! Didn’t he marry Cecile Talmadge?”
“No. I never knew what happened. Whether it was because your marriage”–Vance grew a dull red again–“which cut him off from the fortune, made her cool off, or whether he was the one, I don’t know. They are together a great deal, but, so far as I know, there is no acknowledged engagement.”
Vance walked to the window. He stood there a moment looking out, hands thrust deep in his pockets.
“Where is Miss–er–Miss Damon?”
“If you will come and sit down and stop prowling around this room like a bear in a pit, I’d like to have a little talk with you about Miss–about Mrs. Vance.”
His one-time ward laughed as he drew a chair to the desk and seated himself before the lawyer. “I’ve stopped prowling, fire away! First, though, does she call herself Mrs. Vance?”
“She does not!” Gilman growled. “You know, Tony, that I’ve never thought much of the judgment of women–their hearts are all right, of course, and they have an instinct which gets them by five times out of ten, but their sense of values–well, we lawyers see so many of them who play the fool that we get rather skeptical as to that. However, believe me, Miss Hope Damon, that was, can have me every time. She’s the brightest, quickest, sweetest girl, save my own Babe,” loyally, “that I ever met.”
Vance bent forward eagerly and started to speak, but the lawyer hurried on:
“The first time she came here I asked her about herself. It seems that she lived with her grandparents. She wanted to go to college, but the old people grew feeble and she felt that there was no question as to her duty. See that, Tony? It’s characteristic of the girl. She saw clearly what her nearest work was, and she did it happily. But she kept up her studies First the grandfather died, then the grandmother, then Hope discovered that their income was from an annuity. That was when she came to live with Dr. Jim and Mrs. She had been there barely a month when she met you. Since then she has been very anxious that her identity as the girl who married Anthony Vance to help him save a fortune should not become known. For a wonder her sister-in-law agrees with her. I’ve never been able to understand why, unless it is because she is jealous of Hope and wants her in the background.”
Vance half rose from his chair, bethought him of his lawyer’s command about prowling and settled back again.
“Can she keep it secret?” he asked.
“She can if you will help.”
“Of course I’ll help, but what’s the object?”
“Object! Can’t you imagine the amount of talk to which she would have been subjected during your absence? She would have been the legitimate prey of photographers and reporters the country over. Some time ago she came to me. Logan had ferreted out the Damon household and had begun to try his wiles on her sister-in-law, Hope believes with the purpose of finding out where she was, that he might start some unpleasant notoriety for you. She was convinced that he suspected that the girl you married had not gone to Japan with you.”
“She suggested that for your sake Mrs. Jim be bribed to silence, at least until your return. She could pay her a certain amount, and she asked if I thought you would be willing to augment the payment.”
“You didn’t let her pay any of it, did you?” roared Vance, on his feet in a moment.
Gilman waved a pacifying hand. “Sit down! Sit down! Of course I said that I had been instructed by you to honor any request of hers. Well, we agreed to pay Madame Elsie a thousand dollars a year so long as Logan remained ignorant of your–of young Mrs. Van’s whereabouts. The moment he gets wise to conditions as they are, presto! that moment with automatic precision her allowance stops. Hope says that she is a woman who loves money. I think we have her gagged.”
“Does the woman’s husband know of this arrangement?”
“You don’t know Dr. Jim or you wouldn’t ask such a question. Between you and me though, I suspect that he discovered years a go that the girl he married was a weak sister. But he’s the sort who’d stick to her because she needed him. Chivalry didn’t disappear from the world with Arthur and his Round Table knights. I had one interview with Damon after he discovered that it was my ward who had married his sister.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You’ll get one, too. I wish you joy of it.”
“I deserve what’s coming to me,” Vance answered moodily. “Where is Miss Damon?”
“She is running a tea-house called the Harvest Moon. She has taken her mother’s name, Hope Stanton. She’s near us, in fact, well, I built the place for her on some of my Maine land,” rather apologetically.
“You did! You must have been impressed. Is she successful?”
“Successful! Well, rather. Tea at the Harvest Moon is the fashion. People drop in at all hours of the day, and she is a veritable mine of expedients to keep them coming. It’s as much as I can do to keep away from there myself.”
Vance smiled in sympathy with the elder man’s enthusiasm. “Do Mrs. Gilman and Babs feel as you do about her?” he asked.
“Crazy about her, just crazy about her. So are the other women. She never flirts, so she doesn’t make them jealous. She’s fascinating and she has the intelligence which makes her beauty a lasting attraction. She’s a great reader and she sings, you know–by the way, I wonder if you do know?”
“Why should I? You forget that I saw her for less than two hours. We didn’t have much opportunity to exchange views on our personal characteristics and accomplishments,” Vance retorted drily. “I have a confused remembrance of glowing, dark eyes, slender white hands holding a mass of pink roses–and determination! My word, I can hear that ‘I will not!’ of hers now.”
Gilman pulled out his watch. “Take the train home with me tonight. Babs is having a lot of young people in for dinner and dancing tomorrow, and Hope will be there. She’s got such good sense. Some girls in her position–“
“Position! What do you mean? What’s the matter with her position?”
John Gilman tilted back in his chair and looked at his interrogator steadily. “Well, Tony, you must admit that a girl who is married and yet not married is in a difficult position, to put it mildly. Hope ought, by rights, to be presiding at The Ledges, that country place of yours near us. She ought to make the Madison Avenue house next winter a very center of social and intellectual life; instead of that she’s the proprietor of the Harvest Moon. Well, will you come with me? Where are you staying?”
“At the Club. Do you think that Hope would mind if I came?”
“Mind? Why should she mind? You’re nothing to her. She has the soundest, sanest outlook on life of any girl I know. You’ll get no heroics from her. In fact, I think that you’ll be treated on a par with the dozen and one men who are clinging to her petticoats,” he chuckled.
Vance colored. “Oh, if you think that she’s as indifferent as that–“
“Indifferent! Why shouldn’t she be indifferent?” retorted Gilman hotly. “Did you expect her to sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam till you returned from your travel-cure for a broken heart? Didn’t I hear you tell her that you would never love another woman? She saw the announcement in the paper that Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Vance had gone to South America, and at once concluded that you had had the item inserted, that for some reason you did not want her located.” He cooled down a bit. “You had an awful shake-up, Tony, and I don’t wonder that it nearly drove you mad. You’ve come out of it better than any other chap I know, but you were not quite fair to the girl. You needn’t have chucked the money at her and rushed.”
“Yes, I acknowledge that she went through this farcical ceremony quite as much to help me as to help herself. But what else could I have done, man?”
“That’s the question. What else could you have done? answered the other musingly. He roused himself with a start and drew out his watch again. “Well, are you coming with me? If so, we ought to be off. You’ll have to allow time to get your traps.”
“I’ll ‘phone my man. He’ll meet us at the station with them. I’ll go.” He called a number on the telephone. Gilman nervously shifted papers to and fro on his desk, then closed it.
As the two men left the office the lawyer stopped and said awkwardly: “Tony, the Talmadges are back in their place next to ours.”
Vance stopped short. “Is Cecile there?”
“Yes.” Gilman waited breathlessly. Would the boy be stumped by a girl? he wondered. He gave a grunt of relief as he heard him say in a steady voice:
“If we don’t get a hustle on we’ll lose that train.”
With an exultant chuckle Gilman led the way to his waiting car. “I’m mighty glad you’ve decided to come,” he volunteered after a moment. “Wilfred Logan has gone clean daft over Hope Stanton.”
“Oh, hang Wilfred Logan!” answered a savage voice behind him.
To the west of the Sign of the Harvest Moon a mountain rose in solitary grandeur. Near its base the slopes were marked like a checker board with fields of grain. A forest covered the upper portion which now looked blue and indistinct. To the east glittered the bay, which extended out into the Reach and the waters of the Reach flowed on into the open sea. Flying low across the shore a blue heron winged its leisurely way. The lap of the water against the great yellow rocks was the only sound to break the stillness. The sun had disappeared behind the mountain, and in its going had fired the sky with crimson glory.
The girl who leaned against the veranda post was quite unconscious of the beauty about her. She was thinking of the day when she had married Anthony Vance. Then she was Hope Damon, now she was known as Hope Stanton. She remembered, with a little shiver, her brother’s stunned surprise when she told him of her marriage–his anger at Vance. Well, with the money she had gained in the transaction she had established her tea-house, but had she harmed or helped the man?
It had been a mad, mad thing for each of them. She, to face the truth, was living a lie. She never went to her brother’s home, she never saw her sister-in-law. She had had their child, Bobsy, with her for a week, but she wondered, with an annoyed frown, how long it would be before Wilfred Logan ferreted out that relationship. Logan! Ugh, how she loathed him! When she thought of him she had not a regret, no, not one, that she had helped Vance smash his dastardly scheme to win a fortune. “I’d do it again to-morrow!” she muttered savagely between set teeth. “I loathe a sneak! He didn’t get the money,” she added jubilantly. Her mood changed. She looked off at the crimson sky and smiled radiantly. “Things must come right–they will,” she thought, then hummed softly:
“God is in His heaven–all’s right with His world!”
“Is that were God lives, Sweetness?” asked a child’s voice, and the girl turned with a smile as a lad of four climbed to the veranda railing.
“I don’t wonder you ask, dear.” She gave the tousled head a hug and the rosy cheek a kiss. “It’s glorious enough to be the abode even of the Most High,” she added with a note of awed wonder in her beautiful voice. “What made you think of that, Bobsy?”
But the youngster’s mood had changed. “Time for eats,” he suggested. “Hustle, Sweetness, if we’re to have any Alice tonight.”
Hope turned from where she had been looking dreamily out at the mountain.
“Bobsy,” she queried with a laugh. “Where did you get that new word?”
“Hustle?” he asked with an innocent look, then gurgled roguishly: “Oh, I heard Mr. Tommy Mandell say to-day, that if any one intended to marry you, he’d have to get a hustle on to get ahead of Mr. Dicky Masson. I like Mr. Dicky best myself.”
The tea-house was a picturesque affair built of cedar logs. The girl had planned it and John Gilman had had it built on a ledge overlooking the sea. In the great room, which was used as the tea-room, soft yellow hangings contrasted with the brown of the walls. Cushions of the same shade added comfort to the brown wicker furniture; the tables held tiny yellow jardinieres filled with nasturtiums. The andirons in the huge fireplace had the smiling face of the full moon as their tops and on the wall the moon face made the foundation of a clock.
His aunt began to read in Bobsy’s favorite book, “Alice in Wonderland.”
“‘You can’t think how glad I am to see you again, you dear old thing,’ said the duchess, as she tucked her arm affectionately into Alice’s and they walked off together.
“‘Alice was very glad to find her in such a pleasant temper, and thought to herself that perhaps it was only the pepper that had made her so savage when they met in the kitchen. ‘When I’m a duchess,’ she said to herself, not in a very hopeful tone though, ‘I won’t have any pepper in my kitchen at all. Soup does very well without. Maybe it’s always pepper that makes people hot-tempered.'”
“Do you s’pose Mr. Gilman eats lots and lots of pepper?” interrupted Bobsy.
Hope laughed. “He is a bit peppery, but he’s a dear, isn’t he?”
“Hm, yes,” the child said cautiously. “I guess p’raps he’s sweetness inside.”
“Who’s sweetness inside?” growled a gruff voice.
Hope looked up from her book and saw the lawyer himself standing at the door. She rose with a little cry of welcome.
“Talking of angels! Come in, Mr. Gilman.”
Bobsy rose, came forward and shook hands politely “Evening, sir. You’re not going to take Sweetness now, are you?” with the slightest quiver of his lip.
Hope caught him in her arms. “Not till you are all snugly tucked in,” she comforted. “Finish your supper, dear. Is there any special news, Mr. Gilman?”
“Nothing to frighten you. Vance is back.”
The color flooded her face. “Back!” she echoed, “in New York? Did you tell him about–” she faltered.
“Hold on, one question at a time. He was in New York; I did tell him of a certain conference you and I had a while ago and he approved. He came down with me,” he added.
“Here!” gasped Hope. “Will he be at your house to-night?”
“Oh, then I can’t come,” in a panic.
“Can’t come? Why can’t you come? Didn’t you propose yourself that you and he be friends? Is there any reason why Hope Stanton shouldn’t dine with us to-night as usual? You know that I never approved of your living under an assumed name, but, as long as you will do it, why, play up, girl!”
“Does he know that I am here?”
“He does. Oh, I have no intention of arranging any melodramatic situation; any ‘ ‘Tis he! ‘Tis she!’ act for the edification of our guests this evening. I’ve given you both fair warning, now it’s up to you to deceive the world as to your real relations if you want to. I must be off. We’ll send the car for you.”
“You and Mrs. Gilman do altogether too much for me. Really, I can walk,” protested Hope.
Gilman opened the door to depart. “Perhaps you’d rather that I sent the new young man to escort you,” he suggested.
Bobsy pricked up his ears. With a ludicrous, but perfectly unconscious imitation of his German nurse, Gretchen, he exclaimed:
“Ach, Himmel! Another loffer for Miss Stanton hav com, eh?”
The big man roared with laughter. “Bobsy,” he cried, “you get all the nickels I have for that!” He seated himself at the small table and with serious and impressive ceremony pulled the change from his pocket. “One–two–three–four–“
“Please, Mr. Gilman, don’t give him any more. I don’t want him to care a lot for money,” Hope pleaded. Her cheeks were crimson, her eyes glowing. The lawyer looked at her, then interrogatively at the child. The latter heaved a sigh, glanced at his aunt, then at the man beside him.
“What Sweetness says goes,” he announced stoutly.
The big hand patted the yellow curls. “Just as you say, sir. Now I must be off. See you later, Hope!” and he was gone.
The girl looked after him thoughtfully, seated herself, picked up the book and began to read.
The child finished his supper and came and cuddled into her lap. The room grew dim in the corners.
“‘Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list, feeling very curious to see what the next witness would be like–‘for they haven’t much evidence yet,’ she said to herself. Imagine her surprise, when the White Rabbit read out at the top of his shrill little voice, the name ‘Alice.'”
Hope closed the book. “That’s a good place to stop, isn’t it, dear?”
“I s’pose so,” with a regretful, sleepy sigh. “Alice’s certainly a ‘strordinary girl!”
“Here is Gretchen. Off to the tub now. I’ll come and hear your prayers and tuck you in after I am dressed.”
She kissed him as he slid from her lap to his feet. He went off happily with the little German maid, and bits of excited conversation in his high, happy voice, floated in to Hope from the bath-room:
“And then the Duchess–Gretchen don’t rub so hard! And the Mad Hatter–“
“Ach, you funny poy! A Mad Hatter!”
“Really, Gretchen–it’s in the book really!” and so on till silence denoted that the child was in bed.
In her dressing room Hope brushed her hair till it held the sheen of satin; pinched her cheeks till they smarted; hung the big gold hoops, which gave a decidedly Oriental touch, in her ears, then, very beautiful, very winsome, she went to the boy’s room.
He put both arms around her neck and drew her down till she dropped on her knees beside the bed.
“What makes your eyes shine so, Sweetness?” he asked. “They look like stars. Your gown is like a pink rose, isn’t it?” He patted her bare, white neck. “What do you suppose the ladies will say when they see you without any collar at all to your dress?”
With a laugh Hope held him close. “Bobsy, you’re the very light of my eyes!” she cried tenderly.
[To be continued…]
There was a content discrepancy in today’s installment. It was printed this way originally, so I left it in. Did you catch it?