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Authors: Grace Livingston Hill

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BOOK: Beauty for Ashes
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“Why do you call it
your
disgrace? You had nothing to do with shooting Stan.”

“No,” sighed Gloria again, “but it is a disgrace to have been connected with a man who died in that way. You know that, Dad.”

“I always knew he wasn’t worthy of you,” said her father vehemently.

“After all, Dad, what have I done that should make me worth so much? I’ve been just a good-for-nothing parasite!” said the girl. “When I hear about Grandmother Sutherland and all that she did, I’m ashamed.”

“Times have changed,” said her father sharply. “You were not required to do so much. Your circumstances were different. If you were back in those times and had the same necessity upon you, I’ll warrant you would do as well.”

“I wonder,” said Gloria thoughtfully.

The telegram that Mr. Sutherland had spoken of so lightly without any real idea one would come, arrived over the telephone as they were coming down to breakfast the next morning:

Y
OUR PRESENCE IN OFFICE IMPERATIVE TODAY
.

I
MPORTANT NEWS FROM
E
NGLAND JUST ARRIVED
.

Gloria’s father turned troubled eyes upon her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve got to go home at once. I’ll have to fly if I can catch a plane in time. Will you stay here? I can probably return tomorrow or the next day. Or will you go with me? I could send the chauffeur up on the train to bring down the car.”

Gloria’s eyes took on a look of panic. “Oh, I’d rather not go home—yet!” she pleaded. “Would it be all right for me to stay here a little while longer?” Her eyes sought Mrs. Weatherby’s face, which reassured her.

“Sure, you’re as welcome as the spring in winter!” exclaimed John Hastings, pulling out his chair from the breakfast table. “And Mr. Sutherland, you’ve time to eat your breakfast.” He looked at his watch. “I’ll drive you down to the airport. There’s a plane that leaves about the time we’ll get there. I’ve gone on it myself.”

In ten minutes more they were on their way, for Gloria decided to ride down and see her father off into the sky.

They sat together in the backseat with the Hastings in front.

“I’m afraid you’re going to be mighty lonesome,” said the father, taking his distracted mind from his business for a glimpse at his daughter.

“No,” said Gloria, “I’ll be all right. I’ve got some thinking to do while you’re gone, and I found a lot of old books in the parlor bookcase. I’m going to sit in the hammock on the porch and read between thinks.”

She kept up a cheerful front till he had kissed her and gone, even until the plane was a mere speck in the distance. Then suddenly there descended upon her a sick feeling of desolation. Why had she let him go without her? Why had she not gone along with him?

And like a great bird of prey, all the burden of her sorrow and the shame of Stan’s death came down upon her terror-stricken soul. How was she going to endure the days without her father?

Chapter 5

A
ll the way back to Afton Gloria was listening to Emily Hastings with her ears, as the kindhearted woman told her who lived here and there and what was what along the road, but her heart was suddenly living over again the tragedy that had come into her life and crying out in horror.

It was as if her father had been a kind of protection that had been around her, in which she had been able to exist as in a new world, living back in the years of his early life. But now that he was gone, the glamour of this place was gone with him, and it became a foreign atmosphere in which she could not breathe normally. She looked into the far bright sky that had swallowed him up a few minutes before and wished she had gone with him. Going home would not have been any worse than being in a strange world with people who thought they had to entertain her every minute, while all the time she was longing to crawl away in a hole and hide.

Every detail of that terrible funeral lived itself over hour by hour in her mind as the day crawled through its seemingly endless minutes. Every expression on every face she had seen since Stan’s death passed before her in review. She shrank again from Nance and her bitter words, her covert sneers at herself for caring about that girl. And then her mind leaped to Cousin Joan and Aunt Miranda’s blunt questions. She saw again the cold, unsympathetic glances of those two and knew they were enjoying her discomfiture as if she had been a worm on a pin and they had been watching her squirm. With supernatural insight, it came to her that it was not because those two women were cruel and that they had been glad of her trouble and had tried to rub it in, but because they had been jealous of her wealth and easy life, and it helped to assuage some of their pangs of envy to know that she too had seen disappointment. They had presumed to think of her as feeling above them, and now they were glad that she was brought low. She perceived that it was a state of mind with them rather than personal enmity.

Yet though she could thus excuse and in a sense forgive them, her soul groveled in the earth to think that Stan, her fiancé whom she had trusted so perfectly, had laid her open to such pity as this. Doubtless this was the way everybody thought of her, in spite of their modern standards, as a girl whose fiancé had gone after another girl on the very eve of marriage.

She went to her room when they reached the house, saying she must write some letters, but she did not write letters when she got there. She buried her face in her pillow and let the whole wretched horror sweep over her soul and rack it as it would. There was no one now to interrupt. The tears did not flow down her face, for still they would not come, but she knew they were flowing down in a torrent into her heart, tears of her life’s blood, and she wished—oh, how she wished—that she could cry out her life and be done with it all. Then, just in the middle of her extreme sorrow, the dinner bell rang for the hearty midday meal, and she wondered how she could ever go down and eat. Was there no place in this wide world where one could get away and grieve to death?

Then she heard the dear old lady’s voice calling her, “Gloria, Gloria dear! Come down to dinner!” and the spirit of her own grandmother seemed to stir in the sweet lavender-scented room and urge her. “Go, dear! Don’t grieve my old friend.”

Grandmother would never have slunk away and grieved to death. Grandmother would have gotten up and done her duty.

Gloria arose, washed her face hastily, and hurried downstairs.

There was johnnycake, hash, and applesauce for dinner. It was the first time Gloria had ever been on intimate terms with any of them, and she liked them all. Somehow the good cheer around the table dispelled her gloom. After she had helped with the dinner dishes, she hunted out a book from the bookcase, put on a heavy coat, for the spring air was chilly, and curled up in the hammock on the porch to read.

It was a gorgeous day, and the very air seemed buoyant, yet her heart was so heavy the sunshine fairly hurt. But after a time, she grew interested in the book and managed to while away most of the afternoon.

She tried taking a walk alone, but somehow, with her father away, the romance was gone, and when she looked down the aisle of the woods, she could only see a long vista of years, her life, with the zest all gone out of it.

Her father called her up on the telephone that night to know if she was all right and to say he might have to stay a couple of days longer. Did she want the chauffeur to come up after her, or could she stand it a little longer without him?

She answered cheerily that she was doing beautifully, and though her heart shrank from another day or two of monotony without him, she shrank still more from going home, so she told him she was quite all right and he mustn’t hurry away from important business just for her.

But when she hung up, she had a dreary feeling of being a prisoner in a strange land.

Yet home would have been worse. There would have been Mrs. Asher and her woes, there would have been Nance with her fierce morbidity, and there would have been all the bridesmaids running in to make painful duty calls and bemoan her fate with her. No, a thousand times no, she could not go back home yet. She must get her bearings before she went back, though just how she was to get them was beyond her. She didn’t seem to be doing anything about it here, just mooning along through the days, sorrowing through the nights, getting black rings under her eyes, a sorrowful droop to her mouth. How was she ever to bear life again?

For three days, except when she could persuade Emily Hastings to let her help in some household duty, she spent most of her time on the front porch reading.

The second day she heard whistling, and it cheered her a little. It wasn’t like any whistling she had ever heard before, not jazzy nor half crooning as was the crazy music at home. It was clear, sweet notes like a bird in the early morning, and sweet quaint tunes that she had never heard before, though occasionally there was a melody she recognized from some great symphony. The whistler was familiar with fine music—that was evident. Sometimes there was a bit of Scotch melody and then hymn tunes, whistled with such perfect rhythm that one could almost hear words with the melody.

Whoever was whistling was working just out of sight behind the big white farmhouse that stood a little back from the road, diagonally across the highway. She heard the sound of a saw and a hammer—good, strong, sturdy blows—driving a nail of proportions into wood. It made a musical ringing that chimed well with the whistling. Later there came the ring from a heavy roller going over smooth ground and a little tinkle each time it turned as if some metal fragments were caught within the cylinder and were striking against the iron. Not that she reasoned this out. She was not familiar with saws and hammers and rollers and their work. Such things had not intimately touched her life. But an inner sense told her that somebody over there was doing something in which he was interested, and enjoying the work. Without realizing it, that cheery whistle comforted her. It was probably that elderly gray-haired man she had seen working on the farm across the road, though it sounded like a young whistle.

But Gloria had discovered
Lorna Doone
, and was deep in the thrills of romance and adventure. She did not stop to think about the whistler except to be glad that he was there making cheery noises.

The third day, however, she had come to the end of her book, and was lying back thinking it over, all its sweetness and sadness, beauty and tragedy, comparing it with her own life, realizing how different her fiancé had been from the hero in the story, feeling those terrible tears in her heart again, feeling an almost desperation.

Her father had not come yet. Instead, there was a letter saying that he was involved in most important matters in the office, which it would be disastrous for him to leave, and suggesting again that she come home. Her mother, he said, was interested in getting up a drive for welfare and very much wanted her home to help. She sent word that there was much that could be done quietly, and that no one would criticize her for going into charitable work. He said that he did not see how he could get back to her before Sunday, or even the middle of next week, and it was all owing to some unexpected turn of affairs in European finance. Gloria just couldn’t have been more down and out than she was that afternoon. She was looking into a stretch of endless days ahead of her, in which the sweet quiet she had so enjoyed at first had palled exceedingly upon her, and yet there was no place in the world to which she desired to go instead.

It was just when things had reached this stage that she heard the front gate in the white picket fence swing open and clang back on its noisy hinges and, looking up in panic, saw a very good-looking young man with a tennis racket under his arm coming toward her.

She arose precipitately from the hammock to beat a hasty retreat, but he was there before she could get away.

“Please don’t go yet,” said the young man, smiling pleasantly. “I came over to speak to you. I’m Murray MacRae from across the road. I’ve only been home a few days, but I’ve seen you sitting out here, and I just wondered if you happen to be a tennis player. Because I’ve been fixing up our tennis court, rolling and marking it, and putting up new wire stop nets, trying to get it finished before my sister, Lindsey, gets back from her school, and I’ve just got it done. I wondered if you wouldn’t take pity on me and play me a set or two just to try out the court and see if it’s all right. I know we haven’t been introduced yet, but I guess I can hunt up Mrs. Hastings and remedy that. Won’t you come?”

Gloria hesitated, won in spite of herself by the pleasant, impersonal smile.

“If you don’t play, I can teach you,” he urged with a grin. “Do come! I don’t like to wait a whole week to try out my work.”

“Oh, I play, of course,” said Gloria, wondering at herself that she didn’t give him a prompt negative, “but I haven’t any racket here.”

“Oh, we have plenty of rackets!” said the young man. “They may not be as good as your own, but they would do for a little exercise, I’m sure.”

“I’d have to put on my tennis shoes,” she said, looking down at the trivial high-heeled shoes she was wearing.

“Run along and get them then,” he said, swinging himself to the porch and the hammock she had deserted. “I’ll sit here and see what you’ve been reading. Then we’ll be better acquainted.”

Gloria went into the house wondering what she ought to do. In this age of the world, of course one didn’t stop much on formality, and she liked his looks. But was it the right thing for a girl in her position to go out and play tennis in these her days of mourning? Not that it meant anything of course to play tennis with a neighbor of the house where she as staying, but she felt the habit of her mother’s formality upon her. Still, what difference did it make? All these people were strangers anyway and didn’t know a thing about her. Why not get a little exercise? She was sure her father would approve.

Nevertheless, she was relieved to meet Emily Hastings coming downstairs as she went up.

She stopped her with a question.

“There is a person out there who says his name is Murray something, and he wants me to come over across the road and try his tennis court. Should I go?”

BOOK: Beauty for Ashes
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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