A day later Dennison brought up the card of Miss Margaret Clay. Rachael turned it slowly in her hands, pondering, with a quickened heartbeat and a fluctuating color. Magsie had been often a guest in Rachael’s house a year ago, but she had not been to see Rachael for a long time now. They were to meet, they were to talk alone together—what about? There was nothing about which Rachael Gregory cared to talk to Margaret Clay.
A certain chilliness and trembling smote Rachael, and she sat down. She wished she had been out. It would be simple enough to send down a message to that effect, of course, but that was not the same thing. That would be evading the issue, whereas, had she been out, she could not have held herself responsible for missing Magsie.
Well, the girl was in the neighborhood, of course, and had simply come in to say now do you do? But it would mean evasions, and affectations, and insincerities to talk with Magsie; it would mean lying, unless there must be an open breach. Rachael found herself in a state of actual dread of the encounter, and to end it, impatient at anything so absurd, she asked Dennison to bring the young lady at once to her own sitting-room.
This was the transformed apartment that had been old Mrs. Gregory’s, running straight across the bedroom floor, and commanding from four wide windows a glimpse of the old square, now brave in new feathery green. Rachael had replaced its dull red rep with modern tapestries, had had it papered in peacock and gray, had covered the old, dark woodwork with cream-colored enamel and replaced the black marble mantel with a simply carved one of white stone. The chairs here were all comfortable now; Rachael’s book lay on a magazine-littered table, a dozen tiny, leather-cased animals, cows, horses, and sheep, were stabled on the hearth, and the spring sunlight poured in through fragile curtains of crisp net. Over the fireplace the great oil portrait of Warren Gregory smiled down, a younger Warren, but hardly more handsome than he was to-day. A pastel of the boys’ lovely heads hung opposite it, between two windows, and photographs of Jim and Derry and their father were everywhere: on the desk, on the little grand piano, under the table lamp. This was Rachael’s own domain, and in asking Magsie to come here she consciously chose the environment in which she would feel most at ease.
Upstairs came the light, tripping feet. “In here?” said the fresh, confident voice. Magsie came in.
Rachael met her at the door, and the two women shook hands. Magsie hardly glanced at her hostess, her dancing scrutiny swept the room and settled on Warren’s portrait.
She looked her prettiest, Rachael decided miserably. She was all in white: white shoes, white stockings, the smartest of little white suits, a white hat half hiding her heavy masses of trimly banded golden hair. If her hard winter had tired Magsie—“The Bad Little Lady” was approaching the end of its run—she did not show it. But there was some new quality in her face, some quality almost wistful, almost anxious, that made its appeal even to Warren Gregory’s wife.