It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that he was at forty-five past master in domestic diplomacy, knowing to a detail the private history of more than a score of families, having studied them at his ease behind their chairs, or that he knew infinitely more of the world at large than did his master.
Blakeman had two absorbing passions—one was his love of shooting and the other his reverent adoration of Margaret, whom he had seen develop into womanhood, and who was his Madonna and good angel.
At high noon, then, when the silver bell on Alice’s night table broke the stillness of her bedroom, her French maid, Annette, entered noiselessly and slid back the soft curtains screening the bay window. She, like Blakeman, had seen much. She was, too, more self-contained in many things than the woman she served, although she had been bred in Montmartre and born in the Rue Lepic.
“Did madame ring?” Annette asked, bending over her mistress.
Alice roused herself lazily.
“Yes—my coffee and letters.”
The girl crossed the room, opened a mirrored door, deftly extracted from a hanging mass of frou-frous behind it a silk dressing jacket, helped thrust the firm white arms within its dainty sleeves, tucked a small lace pillow between Alice’s shoulders and picking up the glossy mass of black hair, lifted it skilfully until it lay in glistening folds over the lace pillow. She then went into the boudoir and returned with a dainty tray bearing a set of old Sevres, two buttered wafers of toast and two notes.
Alice waited until her maid closed the bedroom door, then, with the impatience of a child, she opened one of the two notes—the one Annette had discreetly placed beneath the other. This she read and re-read; it was brief, and written in a masculine hand. The woman was thoroughly awake now—her eyes shining, her lips parted in a satisfied smile. “You dear old friend,” she murmured as she lay back upon the lace pillow. Dr. Sperry was coming at five.
She tucked the letter beneath the coverlid and opened her husband’s note. Suddenly her lips grew tense; she raised herself erect and stared at its contents:
I shall pass the summer in
the woods if I can find suitable
place for you and Margaret. Make no arrangements which will
conflict with this. Will write later.
Again she read it, grasping little by little its whole import: all that it meant—all that it would mean to her.
“Is he crazy?” she asked herself. “Does he suppose I intend to be dragged up there?”
It was open defiance on his part; he had done this thing without consulting her and without her consent. It was preposterous and insulting in its brusqueness. He evidently intended to change her life—she, who loathed camp life more than anything in the world was to be forced to live in one all summer instead of reigning at Newport. She understood now his open defiance in leaving for the woods with Holcomb, and yet this last decision was far graver to her than his taking a dozen vacations. Still deeper in her heart there lurked the thought of being separated from the man who understood her. The young doctor’s summer practice in Newport would no longer be a labour of love. It really meant exile to them both.