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known her ever since they were children together. He should stay on as a neighbor, not as a rejected suitor. So she had acquiesced with a smile, and had ordered dinner for them in her sitting-room. The thought of taking him into the din of dishes and voices that made up the college dining-room was not to be contemplated.
The little maid set out the table before the fire and laid the cloth and brought in the tray and disappeared; and Gabrielle Eaton found herself facing her suitor across the table with a curious sense of domestic intimacy she had not counted on.
She had put out a sign that would prevent their being disturbed for the halfhour he might stay. She had assured herself it could not be longer than half an hour. She counted on his being safely out of the way before her girls came for the evening talk by the fire.
She was aware of a desire to free the room of his presence. There was something disturbing in the big man who sat so easily opposite her, looking appreciatively about the room, at the book-lined walls and the bits of soft color and the
"They had gone for a long walk"
great dish of roses in the center of the table. He moved a hand to them.
"Wonderful color!" he said.
"Yes; one of my girls brought them. They are really too many for this small table." She looked at them critically. "If you don't mind my getting up?"
He nodded with amused glance.
and selected a single rose, half-blown and firm-stemmed, and set it in the middle of the table. The great bowl was removed to the side of the room.
Her eyes studied the effect happily-the single flower in its straight glass.
Suddenly she glanced at him with a half-embarrassed smile.
"I know you think I am silly to care about a little thing like that."
"Why should n't you care? The world is made up of little things." He spoke with a serene common sense, the tolerance of a man who allows for foibles, and she felt he had not a glimmer of understanding of the feeling that had urged her. He accepted the change courteously, as he would accept anything she chose to do; but he would never know the fierce insistence for perfection that had driven her to it, that drove her always. He liked her room, she knew. She had noted the quiet glance he threw about him as he came in. But he could never comprehend the severe, almost religious zeal that had gone to make it what it was, so perfect that not a line could be altered without marring it. Sometimes, it is true, there were even now days of upheaval; but they had become rare. Almost the only things that changed from day to day were the flowers her girls sent her, or a parcel of new books from the shop; and even these must keep their place for the beauty of the whole.
All this played like an undercurrent beneath the surface of talk. She was
subtly aware of a force stirring in her room. Something seemed to break and give a little, and she found herself looking anxiously behind her. All her familiar treasures were safe in place.
They talked of life in Dalton, the home town where they had grown up together, and of acquaintances and friends; and the little maid reappeared and carried away the great tray; and still John Fairchild had made no move to go.
Voices were sounding in the hall; they paused outside her door, and came softly through the closed panels.
"She 's engaged! What a shame!" Then the voices drifted away, and John
Fairchild's eye twinkled a little. His fingers had barely touched the end of the cigar that rested in his waistcoat pocket. He glanced about him with a little shake
"Selected a single rose"
"I should like to take you away from it all," he said.
"From this!" She made a quick movement, almost a gesture of protection, toward the room. "I thought we had settled all that." She spoke a little stiffly.
"No," he removed his cigar and looked thoughtfully at the tip,-"we did n't settle everything, did we?"
"But you understood-" She lifted a swift look to him.
"I understood, yes. You will not marry me."
The fire blazed suddenly, and a crash. of sparks went scurrying up the chimney. She leaned forward to adjust the sticks. It surprised her to see that her hand, reaching to the tongs, was trembling.
"Let me do it," he said.
She relinquished the tongs, and he replaced the wood, busying himself with
of the head and settled more comfortably building a skilful pyre of sticks through in his chair.
Her quick glance noted the movement with a look of surprise. He was evidently expecting to stay! But the quiet restfulness in his face touched some chord in her, and she moved the drop-light a little and took up the knitting that lay beside it.
"Would you like to smoke?" she asked casually.
"Here?" He cast a humorous glance behind him, and she smiled.
"It is permitted," she said dryly. "Gracious lady!" He leaned forward with a match to the hearth, and the smoke from his lighted cigar drifted slowly up.
It touched the books, brushing carelessly along the leather bindings and obscuring gilt letters and titles; it circled about Gabrielle Eaton and even seemed to tangle itself in the needles and the light wool that played about them in the firelight; and mounting to the ceiling, it grew tenuous and disappeared.
And John Fairchild watched it with a quiet smile.
The drop-light shadowed her face; but the firelight was playing on it as it bent above her needles.
Presently she looked up.
which the flames played. He kept the tongs in his hands, bending forward to the hearth, his back a little turned.
"I meant what I said," he remarked quietly.
choose to call it, must be located in Dalton."
Her breath came with a cry of pleasure. "But I should love that!" "So should I. So that 's settled." He beamed on her, and she felt strangely shaken from the things about her. seemed to be gazing through some window into a serene bit of country where through the trees a little river went its glimmering way.
She turned and looked at the man across the hearth.
"You really love me, don't you?" she said wonderingly.
"I really do," he replied in a matterof-fact tone. "Have you thought out your plans? Do you know what you want-buildings, laboratories, and all
She seemed still wrapped in the dream. "I don't know-yes. I was reading something the other day-" She got up and crossed to a stand for a book. She knew where it lay, and her hand reached out to it, and paused. Her back was to the man by the fire. But as she lifted her eyes to the Florentine mirror above the stand she caught a glimpse of his face turned to her. There was hunger in it, and a look of quick suffering; all the businesslike indifference was swept away. She stood for a moment staring at it. Then her glance dropped to the book in her hand, and she stood turning the leaves idly. Wave after wave of unknown feeling swept over her, lifting her, engulfing her. The look in his face! She longed to take it in her hands and smooth it awayall the pain and repression in it. Not one of her girls, with eager questing for life, had stirred her as that glimpse of a man's face in the mirror on her wall.
She turned slowly, and faced the successful man of business.
She crossed to him quietly. "This is the book," she said. He reached out a hand for it. With new eyes she saw that it was not quite steady as it reached to her.
"You want something like this?" he asked absently.
down to her, and all the wontedness of life seemed breaking up. She brushed a swift hand across her eyes.
His own searched them, unbelieving. "You-care!" he said under his breath. She nodded. A little smile came to her eyes.
"You-slow-incomprehensible creature!" she murmured.
"I! Slow! Well!" He was looking down at her with humorous eyes as he drew her toward him.
"And I might never have known!" she said softly. She glanced toward the mirror on the wall. "Looking-glass, lookingglass, that hangeth on the wall-"
"Whom in the wide world do you love best of all?" he quoted slowly. "I used to read it to you, Gabrielle, when we were children."
"All children love it. I have been so
foolish!" She said it with a little restful sigh.
"So you don't want your school?" His face was turned to her.
"Of course I want it-more than ever! We will have it together. I need you for it." A sudden thought touched her, and she looked at him.
"Do you know, I think I have been immensely selfish," she said slowly. "I have not for one moment thought of anything but myself and what I want!"
His answer was not perhaps what she expected. He bent to her and kissed her. Then his glance traveled about the perfect room and he smiled.
"Now you will be selfish for me," he said. "I may not always be able to live up to your selfishness; but I want it." And all the perfect room seemed a little shocked. But Gabrielle Eaton laughed