He felt suddenly old, fat, bald-headed! The glow had faded from everything. He did not protest or attempt to persuade her. He took his hat, kissed her hand and got away.
Aunt Priscilla coming in found Dulcie in tears by the fire.
“I’ve given him up, Aunt Cilla.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be right.”
She came into Aunt Priscilla’s bedroom later to talk it over. She had on the rosy house coat. She spoke of going back to Paris.
“It will be better for both of us. After all, Aunt Cilla, we are what we are fundamentally, and we Puritans can’t get away from our consciences, can we?”
“Some of us,” said Aunt Priscilla, “can’t.”
The old woman lay awake a long time that night, thinking it out. She was glad that Dulcie had stopped the thing in time. But she had a feeling that the solution of the situation could not be laid to an awakened conscience. She hoped that some day Dulcie would tell her the truth.
* * * * *
It was still raining when Mills reached home. The house was dark, the fire had died down. He went up-stairs. The boys were in bed. There was a light in Mary’s room. He opened the door. Mary was propped up on her pillows reading a book.
He stopped, uncertain, on the threshold.
“Come in,” she said, “my head’s better.”
He crossed the room and stood beside her.
“Oh, Mary,” he said, and his face worked. He dropped on his knees by the bed and cried like a child.
She laid her hand on his head and smoothed his thin hair.
“Poor Mills!” she said softly; “poor old Mills!” Then after a moment, brightly: “It will do us both good to have some coffee. Run along, Mills, and start the percolator; I’ll be down in a minute to get the supper.”
Perry Cunningham and I had been friends for years. I was older than he, and I had taught him in his senior year at college. After that we had traveled abroad, frugally, as befitted our means. The one quarrel I had with fate was that Perry was poor. Money would have given him the background that belonged to him—he was a princely chap, with a high-held head. He had Southern blood in his veins, which accounted perhaps for an almost old-fashioned charm of manner, as if he carried on a gentlemanly tradition.
We went through the art galleries together. There could have been nothing better than those days with him—the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace. Perry’s search for beauty was almost breathless. We swept from Filippo Lippi to Botticelli and Bellini, then on to Ghirlandajo, Guido Reni, Correggio, Del Sarto—the incomparable Leonardo.
“If I had lived then,” Perry would say, glowing, “in Florence or in Venice!”
And I, smiling at his enthusiasm, had a vision of him among those golden painters, his own young beauty enhanced by robes of clear color, his thirst for loveliness appeased by the sumptuous settings of that age of romance.