Mary Minds Her Business Part 35

Whether it was the way she felt, or because the sound became softened and mellowed in travelling the length of the dining room, it seemed to her that she had never heard music so sweet, had never listened to sounds that filled her heart so full or lifted her thoughts so high.

The climax came at the end of the dessert. A shy girl entered, a small leather box in her hand.

"I have a souvenir for your visitor, Miss Spencer," she said, and turning to him she added, "We made it with our own hands, thinking you might like to use it as a paper weight--as a reminder of what women can do."

The box was lined with blue velvet and contained a small model of the Spencer bearing, made of gold, perfect to the last ball and the last roller. The visitor examined it with admiration--every eye in the dining room (which could be brought to bear) watching him through the gla.s.s part.i.tion.

"If I ever received a more interesting souvenir," he said, "I fail to recall it. Thank you, and please thank the others for me. Tell them how very much I appreciate it, and tell them, too, if you will, that here in this factory today I have had my outlook on life widened to an extent which I had thought impossible. For that, too, I thank you."

Of course they couldn't hear him in the main room, but they could see when he had finished speaking. They clapped their hands; the band played; and when he arose and bowed, they clapped and played louder than before.

And a few minutes later when the party left the dining room to the strains of El Capitan, it seemed to Mary that after the closing chord she heard two vigorous beats of the drum--soul expression of Mrs. Kelly, signifying "That's us!"

The visitors departed at last, and Mary returned to her office to find other callers awaiting her.

The first was Helen, togged to the nines.

"Somehow she heard they were here," thought Mary, "and she came down thinking to meet them. She thought surely I would bring them in here again." But her next reflection made her frown a little. "--Partly that, I guess," she thought, "and partly to see Burdon, as usual."

A knock on the door interrupted her, and Joe entered, bearing two cards.

"These gentlemen have been waiting since noon," he announced, "but they said they didn't mind waiting when I told them who was with you."

The cards bore the name of a firm of public accountants.

"Oh, yes," said Mary. "Show them in, please, Joe. And ask Mr. Burdon if I can see him for a few minutes."

If you had been there, you might have noticed a change pa.s.s over Helen. A moment before Burdon's name was mentioned she was sitting relaxed and rather dispirited, as you sometimes see a yacht becalmed, riding the water without life or interest. But as soon as it appeared that Burdon was about to enter, a breeze suddenly seemed to fill Helen's sails. Her beauty, pa.s.sive before, became active. Her bunting fluttered. Her flags began to fly.

The door opened, but Helen's smiling glance was disappointed. The two auditors entered.

One was grey, the other was young; but each had the same pale, incurious air of detachment. They reminded Mary of two astronomy professors of her college days, two men who had just such an air of detachment, who always seemed to be out of their element in the daylight, always waiting for the night to come to resume the study of their beloved stars.

"I have sent for our treasurer, Mr. Woodward," said Mary. "Won't you be seated for a few minutes?"

They sat down in the same impersonal way and glanced around the room with eyes that seemed to see nothing. By the side of the mantel was a framed piece of history, an itemized bill of the first generation of the firm, dated June 28, 1706, and quaint with its old spelling, its triple column of pounds, shillings and pence.

"May I look at that?" asked one of the accountants, rising. The other followed him. Their heads bent over the doc.u.ment.... It occurred to Mary that they were verifying the addition.

Again the door opened and this time it was Burdon, his dashing personality immediately dominating the room.

Mary introduced the accountants to him.

"With our new methods," she said, "we probably need a new system of bookkeeping. I also want to compare our old costs with present costs--"

Burdon stared at her, but Mary--half-ashamed of what she was doing--kept her glance upon the two accountants.

"Mr. Burdon will give you all the old records, all the old books you want," she said, "and will help you in every possible way--"

And still Burdon stared at her--his whole life concentrated for a moment in his glance. And still Mary looked at the two accountants who completed the triangle by looking at Burdon, as they naturally would, waiting for him to turn and speak to them. As Mary watched them, she became conscious of a change in their manner, a tenseness of interest, such as the two astronomers aforesaid might display at the sight of some disturbance in the heavens.

"What do they see?" she thought, and looked at Burdon. But Burdon at the same moment had turned to the accountants, his manner as large, his air as dashing as ever.

"Anything you want, gentlemen," he said, "you have only to ask for it."

When Mary reached home that evening, you can imagine how Aunt Patty and Aunt Cordelia listened to her recital, their white heads nodding at the periods, their cheeks pink with pride. Now and then they exchanged glances. "Our baby!" these glances seemed to say, and then turned back to Mary with such love and admiration that finally the object of this pantomime could stand it no longer, but had to kiss them both till their cheeks turned pinker than ever and they gasped for breath.

That night, when Mary went to her room and stood at the window, looking out at the world below and the sky above, she threw out her arms and, turning her face to the moonlight, she felt that world-old wish to express the inexpressible, to put immortal yearnings into mortal words.

Life--thankfulness for life--a joy so deep that it wasn't far from pain--hoping--longing-yearning ... for what? Mary herself could not have told you--perhaps to be one with the starlight and the scent of flowers--to have the freedom of infinity--to express the inexpressible--

For a long time she stood at the window, the moon looking down upon her and bathing her face in its radiance.... Insensibly then the earth recalled her and her thoughts began to return to the events of the day.

"Oh, yes," she suddenly said to herself, "I knew there was something....

I wonder why the accountants stared at Burdon so...."

CHAPTER XXVIII

Far away, that same moon was watching another scene--a ship on the Southern sea throbbing its way to New York.

It was a steamer just out of Rio, its drawing rooms and upper decks filled with tourists doubly happy because they were going home.

On the steerage deck below, in the ap.r.o.n of a kitchen worker, a man was standing with his elbows on the rail--an uncertain figure in the moonlight. Once when he turned to look at the deck above, a lamp shone upon him. If you had been there you would have seen that while a beard covered much of his face, his cheeks were wasted and his eyes looked as though he needed rest.

He turned his glance out over the sea again, looking now to the north star and now to the roadway of ripples that led to the moon.

"I wonder if Rosa's asleep," he thought. "Eleven o'clock. She ought to be. It's a good school. She's lucky. So was I, that the old gentleman didn't get my letter...."

On the deck above, a violin and harp were accompanying a piano.

"That's where I ought to be--up there," he thought, "not peeling potatoes and scouring pans down here. All I have to do is to go up and announce myself...." He smiled--a grim affair. "Yes, all I have to do is to go up and announce myself.... They'd take care of me, all right!"

He lifted his hand and thoughtfully rubbed his beard.

"As long as I stick to Russian, I'm safe. Nicholas Rapieff--n.o.body has suspected me now for fifteen years. Paul Spencer's dead--dead long ago.

But, somehow or other, I have taken it into my head that I would like to see the place where he was born...."

His glance were on the ripples that led to the moon.

"I wonder if the orchard is still back of the house," he thought, "and the winesap tree I fell out of. I wonder if old Hutch is dead yet. I remember he carried me in the house, and the very next week I knocked the clock down on him.... I wonder if that swimming hole is still there where the river turns below the dam. That was the best of all.... I remember how I liked to lie there--an innocent kid--and dream what I was going to do when I was a man.... Lord in Heaven, what wouldn't I give to dream those dreams again...."

On the upper deck the dance had come to an end.

"Time to turn in," thought Paul.

He crossed to the steerage door and a moment later the moon was shining on an empty deck.

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