"Ah!" intoned Mrs. Van Duser, majestically transferring her attention from the daring robin to Elizabeth's crimson face.
"Samuel has neglected to call upon me since his return to Boston," was Mrs. Van Duser's next remark, delivered in an awe-inspiring contralto; "though it is evident that he owes me an acknowledgment of his present good fortune."
Elizabeth fixed round eyes of astonishment upon her visitor. "I can't think what you mean," she exclaimed unguardedly.
"And yet I find you here, in this sylvan spot, far removed from the follies and temptations of your former position, and--I trust--prospering in a modest way."
"Thank you," murmured Elizabeth, pink with indignation, "we are getting on very well."
"What rent do you pay?"
Elizabeth looked about rather wildly, as if searching for a way of escape. The robin had swallowed his latest find with an air of huge satisfaction, and now flew away with a ringing summons to his mate. "We pay thirty dollars, Mrs. Van Duser," she said slowly, "by the month."
"Um! Why don't you buy the place?"
"I don't think--I'm sure we--couldn't--" hesitated Elizabeth.
"You are wrong," said Mrs. Van Duser, again raising her lorgnette to her eyes; "if you can afford to pay three hundred and sixty dollars in rent you can afford to own a home, and you should do so. Tell Samuel I said so."
"Yes, Mrs. Van Duser," murmured Elizabeth in a depressed monotone.
"Do you keep a maid?"
"No, Mrs. Van Duser, I do my own housework." Elizabeth's brown eyes sparkled defiantly as she added, "I was brought up to work, and I like to do it."
Mrs. Van Duser's large solemn countenance relaxed into a smile as she gazed into the ingenuous young face at her side.
"Ah, my dear," she sighed, "I envy you your happiness, though I had it myself once upon a time. I don't often speak of those days, but John Van Duser was a poor man when I married him, and we lived in a little house not unlike this, and I did the cooking. Do you think you could give me a cup of tea, my dear?"
When Samuel Brewster came home from his work at an unexpectedly early hour that afternoon he was astonished to find an imposing coupe, drawn by two fat, shining horses, being driven slowly up and down before his door; and further, as he entered the house, by the cheerful sound of clinking silver and china and low-voiced conversation. Elizabeth, pink-cheeked and smiling, met him with an exclamation of happy surprise.
"I am so glad you came home, Sam dear," she said. "Mrs. Van Duser was hoping to see you before she went."
And Mrs. Van Duser, looking very much at home and very comfortable indeed in Sam's own big wicker chair, proffered him a large white jewelled hand, while she bade him give an account of himself quite in the tone of an affectionate relative.
"You have a charming and sensible wife, Samuel, and a well-conducted home," said the great lady. "I have seen the whole house, cellar, kitchen and all," she added with a reminiscent sigh, "and it has carried me back to the happiest days I ever spent."
The young engineer pa.s.sed his arm about his Elizabeth's shoulders as the two stood at the gate watching the stately departure of the Van Duser equipage. "Well, Betty," he said, "so the mountain came to Mahomet? But the mountain doesn't seem such a bad sort, after all. I liked the way she kissed you good-bye, though I should never have guessed she was capable of it."
Elizabeth drew a deep breath. "I never was so frightened in my life as when she first came," she confessed. "But she is kind, Sam, in her way, though at first I thought it wasn't a pleasant way. And O, Sam dear, she thinks we gave up our flat and came out here just because she wrote us that letter; she was as complacent as could be when she spoke of it."
"Did you undeceive her?"
"N-no, dear, I didn't even try. Perhaps it was the letter--partly, and anyway I felt sure I couldn't make her think any differently whatever I might say. But I did tell her about Annita and about how thoughtless and selfish I was, and----"
"Did you tell her about the Tripp lady?" he suggested teasingly.
"No," she said gravely. "Evelyn meant to be kind, too; I am sure of that."
"O benevolent Betty!" he exclaimed with mock gravity. "O most sapient Elizabeth! I perceive that in gaining a new friend thou hast not lost an old one! I suppose from now on you will begin to model your small self on the Van Duser pattern. My lady will see to it that you do, if you see much of her."
Elizabeth looked up at her tall husband, her brown eyes br.i.m.m.i.n.g with thoughtful light. "It is good to have friends," she said slowly; "but, Sam dear, we must never allow any--_friend_ to come between us again. We must live our own lives, and solve our own problems, even if we make an occasional blunder doing it."
"We've solved our problems already," he said confidently, "and I'm not afraid of the blunders, thanks to the dearest and best little wife a man ever had."
And Elizabeth smiled back at him, knowing in her wiser woman's heart that there were yet many problems to be solved, but not fearful of what the future would bring in the light of his loving eyes.
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