“And your mother loved you because she loved your father,” the girl’s voice went on, “and you were all very happy up there in the forest. Do you remember that you told me about it on the ship?—you were happy, although you were poor, and hadn’t any books but ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ But your mother was happy—because she—loved your father.”
As she repeated it, she leaned forward. “Could you think of your mother as having been happy with any one else but your father?” she asked. “Could you think of her as having never married him, of having gone through the rest of her days a half-woman, because he would not—take her—into his life? Can you think that all the money in the world—all the money in the whole world—would—would have made up—”
The room seemed to darken. Hare was conscious that her face was hidden in her hands, that he stumbled toward her, that he knelt beside her—that she was in his arms.
“Hush,” he was saying in that beating darkness of emotion. “Hush, don’t cry—I—I will never let you go—”
When the storm had spent itself and when at last she met his long gaze, he whispered, “I’m not sure now that it is right—”
“You will be sure as the years go on,” she whispered back; then, tremulously: “but I—I could never have—talked that way if I had thought of you as the man. I had to think of you as the little boy—who dreamed.”
“My great-grandfather slept in it,” Van Alen told the caretaker, as she ushered him into the big stuffy bedroom.
The old woman set her candlestick down on the quaint dresser. “He must have been a little man,” she said; “none of my sons could sleep in it. Their feet would hang over.”
Van Alen eyed the big bed curiously. All his life he had heard of it, and now he had traveled far to see it. It was a lumbering structure of great width and of strangely disproportionate length. And the coverlet and the canopy were of rose-colored chintz.
“I think I shall fit it,” he said slowly.
Mrs. Brand’s critical glance weighed his smallness, his immaculateness, his difference from her own great sons.
“Yes,” she said, with the open rudeness of the country-bred; “yes, you ain’t very big.”
Van Alen winced. Even from the lips of this uncouth woman the truth struck hard. But he carried the topic forward with the light ease of a man of the world.
“My grandfather had the bed sawed to his own length,” he explained; “did you ever hear the story?”
“No,” she said; “I ain’t been here long. They kept the house shut up till this year.”
“Well, I’ll tell you when I come down,” and Van Alen opened his bag with a finality that sent the old woman to the door.
“Supper’s ready,” she told him, “whenever you are.”
At the supper table the four big sons towered above Van Alen. They ate with appetites like giants, and they had big ways and hearty laughs that seemed to dwarf their guest into insignificance.