But now there was a beautiful and gracious woman in Isabelle’s place, and long before the world knew that Harriet Field was really Harriet Carter, there was a very decided change in the social atmosphere. Nina would be eighteen in June, and affairs for Nina and her friends began to assume a more formal air. Ward, who seemed anxious to placate his father, and convince him of his genuine reform, was almost always at home, and Madame Carter was willing to accept the comfort and amusement that Harriet’s return brought to the house, and rarely raised an issue with the triumphant secretary. And, more strange than all, Richard began to bring his friends to the house; he was proud of his smoothly running establishment, and proud of the charming woman who neither flirted with nor ignored the men he brought home. They were plain men sometimes, business associates who might have been ill at ease at Crownlands, and voiceless at the dinner table. But Harriet drew them out, and seemed to have some conversational divining rod by which she touched with unfailing instinct upon the topic of each in turn.
Always beautiful and always busy, constantly in demand on all sides, she went about his house like a smiling worker of miracles, and Richard watched her. When she went home to her sister for a day or two he missed her strangely, and wandered about the empty rooms with a desolate sense of loss.
She was presently back, and amused the young people at the dinner table with a spirited account of her sister’s move into a new house—“really an old house,” that she and her family had been watching for years. It had been auctioned, forfeited by the purchaser, it had figured in a lawsuit, and now at last it was in the possession of the delighted Davenports. And the move—with the baby carrying his puppy, and Pip the goldfish, and the girls wheeling the old baby-carriage full of their treasures, and Linda whitening her hands with a cut lemon, as she walked the seven short blocks—! Harriet made them see it all, and Richard laughed with the children. His mother, always reminiscent, recalled a move in his own third year, when he had tasted furniture polish, and made himself ill.
Nina and Amy and Ward had rushed from the dinner table to an early dance at the club, and Richard, after a talk with his mother on the terrace, had wandered about with a vague hope of finding Harriet somewhere with her book. But she was not downstairs.
He went back, and presently accompanied his mother to her door. The old lady stopped outside of Nina’s open door, from which a subdued light streamed.
“Oh, Miss Field—” said Madame Carter.
“Yes, Madame Carter!” The rich, ready voice responded instantly. Richard hoped she would come to the door, but his mother’s message was delivered too quickly to make it necessary.
“You’re waiting up for Nina?”
“Oh, yes, Madame Carter!” Harriet answered. The two exchanged good-nights; Richard loitered into his mother’s room, left her in her maid’s hands, and went back into the dimly lighted, spacious upper hall. He felt oddly stirred; there were letters downstairs, his usual books and amusements, but he felt curiously impelled to try for one more word with Miss Field.