“Now, that was a devil of an interview, wasn’t it! What’s come over the girl? And what’s the matter with me?” After a while he telephoned Mr. Jason Vandervelde.
Everything went on as usual in the orderly, luxurious house, for some ten quiet months or so. And then one memorable morning at the breakfast-table Mr. Champneys suddenly gasped and slid down in his chair. Nancy and Hoichi carried him into the library and placed him on a lounge. He opened his eyes once, and stared into hers with something of his old imperiousness. She took his hand, pitifully, and bent down to him.
“Yes, Uncle Chadwick?”
But he didn’t speak—to her. His eyes wandered past her. His lips trembled, into a whisper of “Milly!” With that he went out to the wife of his youth.
While Mr. Chadwick Champneys was alive, Nancy had been able to feel that there was some one to whom she, in a way, belonged. Now that he was gone, she felt as if she had been detached from all human ties, for she couldn’t consider Peter as belonging. Peter wasn’t coming home, of course. He was content to leave his business interests in the safe hands of Mr. Jason Vandervelde, and the trust company that had the Champneys estate in charge. A last addition to Mr. Champneys’s will had made the lawyer the guardian of Mrs. Peter Champneys until she was twenty-five.
While he was putting certain of his late client’s personal affairs in order, Mr. Vandervelde necessarily came in contact with young Mrs. Peter. The oftener he met her, the more interested the shrewd and kindly man became in Anne Champneys. When he first saw her in the black she had donned for her uncle, the unusual quality of her personal appearance struck him with some astonishment.
“Why, she’s grown handsome!” he thought with surprise. “Or maybe she’s going to be handsome. Or maybe she’s not, either. Whatever she is, she certainly can catch the human eye!”
He remembered her as she had appeared on her wedding-day, and his respect for Chadwick Champneys’s far-sighted perspicacity grew: the old man certainly had had an unerring sense of values. The girl had a mind of her own, too. At times her judgment surprised him with its elemental clarity, its penetrating soundness. The power of thinking for herself hadn’t been educated out of her; she had not been stodged with other people’s—mostly dead people’s—thoughts, therefore she had room for her own. He reflected that a little wholesome neglect might be added to the modern curriculum with great advantage to the youthful mind.
Her isolation, the deadly monotony of her daily life, horrified him. He realized that she should have other companionship than Mrs. MacGregor’s, shrewdly suspecting that as a teacher that lady had passed the limit of usefulness some time since. Somehow, the impermeable perfection of Mrs. MacGregor exasperated Mr. Vandervelde almost to the point of throwing things at her. She made him understand why there is more joy in heaven over one sinner saved, than over ninety and nine just persons. He could understand just how welcome to a bored heaven that sinner must be! And think of that poor girl living with this human work of supererogation!