But the insignificance was that of body only, for Van Alen, fresh from the outside world and a good talker at all times, dominated the table conversationally.
To what he had to say the men listened eagerly, and the girl who waited on the table listened.
She was a vivid personality, with burnished hair, flaming cheeks, eyes like the sea. Her hands, as she passed the biscuits, were white, and the fingers went down delicately to little points. Van Alen, noting these things keenly, knew that she was out of her place, and wondered how she came there.
At the end of the meal he told the story of the Canopy Bed.
“My great-grandfather was a little man, and very sensitive about his height. In the days of his early manhood he spent much time in devising ways to deceive people into thinking him taller. He surrounded himself with big things, had a big bed made, wore high-heeled boots, and the crown of his hat was so tall that he was almost overbalanced.
“But for all that, he was a little man among the sturdy men of his generation, and if it had not been for the Revolution I think he would have died railing at fate. But the war brought him opportunity. My little great-grandfather fought in it, and won great honors, and straight back home he came and had the bed sawed off! He wanted future generations to see what a little man could do, and his will provided that this house should not be sold, and that, when his sons and grandsons had proved themselves worthy of it by some achievement, they should come here and sleep. I think he swaggered a little when he wrote that will, and he has put his descendants in an embarrassing position. We can never sleep in the canopy bed without taking more upon ourselves than modesty permits!”
He laughed, and instinctively his eyes sought those of the girl who waited on the table. Somehow he felt that she was the only one who could understand.
She came back at him with a question: “What have you done?”
“I have written a book,” he told her.
She shook her head, and there were little sparks of light in her eyes. “I don’t believe that was what your grandfather meant,” she said, slowly.
They stared at her—three of the brothers with their knives and forks uplifted, the fourth, a blond Titanic youngster, with his elbows on the table, his face turned up to her, as to the sun.
“I don’t believe he meant something done with your brains, but something fine, heroic—” There was a hint of scorn in her voice.
Van Alen flushed. He was fresh from the adulation of his bookish world.
“I should not have come,” he explained, uncomfortably, “if my mother had not desired that I preserve the tradition of the family.”
“It is a great thing to write a book”—she was leaning forward, aflame with interest—“but I don’t believe he meant just that—”
He laughed. “Then I am not to sleep in the canopy bed?”