By Temple Bailey
Illustrations by Rose O'Neill Wilson
PHYLLIDA'S mother played bridge all day and until midnight and after, and Phyllida's father gambled in stocks, but Phyllida, trained by the nuns, and having spent most of her days in a rose garden, and most of her nights in a small white room with a crucifix over her bed, was a thing of fire and dew and ideals.
"In our home," she told the Poet, "we'll always burn candles and we'll have a sun dial in the garden."
"If we live in a flat there will be no garden," her lover reminded her.
"We can still burn candles," Phyllida stated, "and I can have window boxes and feed the white doves on the sill."
"Dear heart," murmured the Poet, knowing that the doves would be slate-colored pigeons, but putting off the moment of disillusion.
With such capacity for romance, it was not wonderful that Phyllida should agree to an elopement.
It was the last resort of the Poet. He had asked for Phyllida's hand as a gentleman should, of her father first, and failing there, of her mother. And both of them had stated that they had other plans—there was the multi-millionaire, Fortunatus; and Phyllida should not marry a poor man.
"I am not poor," the Poet told them, "I do not live by my poetry."
Phyllida's father said that poverty was a matter of comparison, that Phyllida would inherit millions, the Poet could, it seemed, give her only thousands.
"I can give her many things that she does not get at home," said the Poet, flushing.
"For example?" asked Phyllida's father.
"An atmosphere of good breeding," said the Poet, succinctly, and took his hat and went out.
"Of course now they will never consent," he told Phyllida that night. Phyllida's mother was playing bridge in the music-room with three feminine dinner guests, and Phyllida's father was smoking in the library with three masculine ones, and Phyllida and her Poet met clandestinely in the garage. There was no light except such as the moon gave through a high square of window above them. The shadows of the big touring car hid them, and the chauffeur, with the Poet's tip in his pocket, was chaffing the cook at the kitchen door.
"They will never consent," the Poet repeated, "I regret that I was impertinent. But there was something in his manner——"
"There is always something in his manner," said Phyllida calmly, "you needn't try to explain——"
"The thing for me to do is to go away," the Poet said feeling that, as a Poet, he should have put it more exquisitely, but with no heart to try.
Phyllida's face was uplifted. Her sheer blue gown fell in straight folds to her feet. In the moonlight, her hair shone nimbus-like about her head.
"You shall not go," she said faintly. Then, almost whispering, "Kiss me——"
It was the first time she had permitted it. She was half a little nun, half-awakened woman.
Out of a wonderful silence she murmured, "Nothing can part us now, beloved——"
It was then that they decided to run away. The Poet realized that it was a childish and hackneyed thing to do, but there seemed no other way to get Phyllida. To Phyllida it was the great consummation.
"To-morrow night," she said, standing away from him a little, "we will go over the hills and far away—in the moonlight——"
And the Poet, carried out of himself by her youth and beauty, cast doubt to the winds.
He caught her hands in his, and, at arms' length, swung her with him from side to side, rhythmically, as he chanted.
"I know a little house—set in the midst of a tangled garden and beyond the garden are reeds and rushes—and beyond the reeds and rushes a little lake. And beyond the lake the hills are purple against a golden sky—and the moon hangs low when it is late—our honeymoon."
They both laughed, and the Poet kissed Phyllida—the second kiss, which could never be as wonderful as the first, but which was wonderful enough in all conscience. But when the Poet had left Phyllida and walked the city streets alone, he was burdened by the feeling that he ought not to let her run away with him. For the Poet, with the thinning of his locks on his temples had grown wise, and he knew that while one may put into verses all the moon-lighted fancies that one pleases, one must live life as it really is.
But Phyllida, troubled by no doubts, packed into a big trunk all the fine sheer garments that the nuns had made for her. And there was one delicate robe that was embroidered about the shoulders with true-lovers' knots. Sister Beatrice had wished to leave off the true-lovers' knots, but Phyllida had overruled her.
"I shall keep it for my bridal," she had said, "and I shall want to wear it because you made it."
There was nothing among the pretty things that Phyllida's mother had made, and if there had been Phyllida would not have put it in that trunk. Her mother had no place in her wonder world. Neither had her father, and so she left behind all the jewels he had given her, piling them up in a glittering heap on her dressing table. But she took with her an amethyst rosary that Father Rosario had brought to her from Rome. Father Rosario had heard the confessions of the girls at school. Phyllida being of another faith had made no formal confession, but she had asked Father Rosario many things.
"Suppose my father and mother should want me to marry some one I do not love," she had demanded, "should I be obedient then?"
He had looked down at her with a grave face, but back in his eyes there had been a little flame.
"Love has not found you yet. Wait until it comes."
"But when it comes," Phyllida urged, "wouldn't it be right to forsake all others—and go?"
They had reached the little shrine at the end of the garden. Above it two white doves cooed and caressed. The blossoming almonds on each side flung up pink branches to the sapphire sky. The spring breezes murmured and sang. Father Rosario caught his breath quickly.
"God will tell you, dear child," he had said, gently, "and your own heart."
And now her heart had told her—and presently—she would ask God——
So when everything was ready, she went into the alcove, where her bed stood, and the curtains fell about her and hid her, and the room was very still.
The moonlight touched the jewels on the dressing table, so that they seemed to burn in a circle of white fire, and within that circle there appeared, all at once, a long white hand, with tapering ringers. But as the fingers clutched at the jewels and picked them up, there was a click, and the lights flared.
"Mother," Phyllida cried sharply, "what are you doing?"
"I thought you were in bed," her mother stammered.
"I was in the alcove saying my prayers," Phyllida told her, "what are you doing with my jewels?"
"As I came by the door I saw them—and—and I felt they were not safe——"
Phyllida's startled eyes questioned, for her room was at the end of the hall and there was nothing beyond.
But her mother's glance metsteadily. "It's very late," she said, with a yawn, "you ought to be in bed—but you'd better lock these up," and she let the half dozen rings and bracelets, and the string of pearls and the chain with the diamond heart slip through her fingers reluctantly.
Phyllida's tense figure relaxed. All the sinister suggestion of that first sight of the tall figure in the shimmering white gown had departed, and she flung out her hands in a gesture of relief.
"Oh, mother," she cried, breathlessly, "I was so frightened—I thought it was a thief!"
All that night Phyllida lay wide-eyed in the darkness, for it was her last night in her father's house, and there were things to think of. Things that had been and that were to be.
The night waned, and the dawn came in gray through the windows, and there was the patter of rain against the panes, which was a bad omen for Phyllida's wedding morn.
But Phyllida cared nothing for omens. Rain or shine she was to marry the Poet, and as she went downstairs her cheeks matched the pink of her gown, and her eyes were full of dreams.
When she came into the dining-room, her father and mother said "Good-morning," and went on eating grapefruit. And Phyllida said "Good-morning," and ate her grapefruit. Even the frigidity of the domestic atmosphere could not dim her radiance. But there had been a time when her heart had cried out for the long lines of smiling girl faces, and Sister Beatrice's morning benediction.
When he had finished breakfast, Phyllida's father laid down his newspaper and started to go, but Phyllida's mother stopped him.
"You might as well tell Phyllida now," she said, "she will have to know——"
And Phyllida's father rested his arms on the back of his chair and stared at his plate and said, "I'm ruined. Yesterday was a most unfortunate day—I have lost everything——"
Though he spoke calmly enough, the whiteness of his handsome face made Phyllida catch her breath and say, "Oh, I am so sorry for you, father."
Her mother's polished finger tips tapped the mahogany impatiently, "If you were really sorry you would marry Fortunatus."
It seemed to Phyllida that, for a moment, a gleam of hope lighted her father's face.
She looked from one to the other. "But—I do not love him," she protested.
"You might—if it were not for the Poet," her mother said, "he has filled your head with fancies——"
Phyllida's cheeks flamed. She pushed back her chair and stood up. "And if I married Fortunatus, what then?"
"We should all have plenty of money," said her mother, and her father turned his face to her with that haggard gleam of hope.
"But should we have happiness?" Phyllida flung out.
They stared at her, the little slender child, who, for eighteen years had been mothered and fathered in a convent.
"I can see no happiness here," Phyllida went on, "at the convent we were all happy."
"You were all young," said her mother.
"Sister Beatrice is fifty—but you should have heard her laugh."
Her mother shivered. "One might as well be dead as out of the world——"
But Phyllida's father put out a shaking hand and touched his daughter's arm.
"What made them happy?"
In a sudden mood of exaltation, Phyllida caught the shaking hand in hers.
"Father," she cried, "it was love. Love of one another—and of God!"
That afternoon, while the rain fell ceaselessly, Phyllida wrote a note to the Poet.
"I cannot go with you to-night. You will see by the evening papers that my father has lost everything. And it doesn't seem right that he should lose me, too. This morning he kissed me, for the first time since I was a little girl—and, after all, he is my father——"
And when she had added a few words, that were to echo forever in the Poet's heart, she sealed the envelope and went back to her desk to get some money from her silver purse to pay the messenger.
But the purse was not in the desk, and though she hunted in every nook and corner of her room, she could not find it, and in as all the money that she had saved from her allowance, so that she might not go to the Poet empty-handed.
Then, with fear tugging at her heart, she said to the man, "I cannot find my purse. I will go and get the money."
She sped up the hall to her mother's chamber, but found it empty, and, guided by the sound of shrill laughter, she went down to the music-room, where, set in the middle of the polished floor, was a little spindle-legged table, and about the table were four women playing cards. And Phyllida's mother, with two spots burning red in her cheeks, was talking eagerly, as, with her long white fingers, she shook a roll of bills from a silver purse.
"There," she said, triumphantly, to a tall dark woman in a rose-colored gown who was adding up rows of figures on an ivory tablet, "how much do I owe you, Juliana?"
And thus, with her daughter's money, did Phyllida's mother pay her debts at bridge.
Phyllida crept away, unnoticed, and climbed the stairs, saying over and over again, passionately, "She stole it, and she would have stolen my jewels."
At the head of the stairs was the library, and as she passed the curtained doorway, she heard a voice, Fortunatus' voice, and he was saying:
"If I marry Phyllida, I will fix things up for you."
And her father's voice shook and broke as he answered, "I cannot sell her——"
She shrank back into a shadowy corner as Fortunatus came forth, with his face flaming with anger, and flung himself out of the front door. After the noise of his exodus, a strange stillness seemed to hang over the house, broken once by the shrill laughter from below.
Phyllida parted the curtains. Her father sat at his desk, looking drearily out at the driving rain.
"Father," Phyllida whispered, and he opened his arms, and she crept into them.
And after a long time she whispered, "To-night the Poet and I were going to run away—but now I cannot leave you."
Her father smoothed her hair back from her face with a shaking hand. "You must marry him," he said, "and tell him to take you away from it all—all that we have taught you——"
"There's a little house in a tangled garden," Phyllida told him, eagerly, "with a lake beyond where we will spend our honeymoon."
"Tell him to keep you there always," her father's tone was almost fierce, "and when things get too much for me here, I will come sometimes, and visit you."
"Come now," Phyllida was aflame with the idea. "Come with us now, and we will all run away together."
She saw a new light come into his face and then die away into weariness as the shrill laughter made mocking echoes in the quiet house.
"Yes. Yes," she insisted. "Mother wants to go and visit Juliana. She has always wanted to go, and you can leave a note. And you can stay with us for a time, and the Poet, why, the Poet can help you plan your future, father."
"What does the Poet know of finance?" her father scoffed.
"Nothing," Phyllida admitted, securely, "but he knows a lot of lovely things about living—and so does Father Rosario—and Sister Beatrice."
"Then they shall teach me," said her father humbly.
So Phyllida went upstairs and sent another note to the Poet, that made him open his eyes and read it again, and when he-had read it a third time, he read it through a mist.
"Dear heart," he said.
And that night the three of them ran away together. The Poet, who knew life, and Phyllida, who knew love, and the old man who had everything to learn.