Have You Ever Felt the Fascination of a House—Your Own? Miss Maxwell Felt It Strongly—in Fact It Dominated Her Life. Here is a Character Sketch Distinguished by Its Quiet Charm
'Author of “Jeremy”'
MISS HENRIETTA MAXWELL, when she was about thirty-five years of age, suffered suddenly from misfortune. She had been for many years quite alone in the world, an only child whose parents had been killed in a carriage accident when she was ten years of age. Then she had acquired an almost masculine independence and self-reliance. Until lately, things had gone well with her. Without being rich, she had had, until that fatal August of 1914, quite enough to live upon. She had taken a house in St. John’s Wood, not far from Lords, with an adorable garden, paneled dining-room, and a long music room at the back. She had soon loved this house so much, so deeply, that she had bought it. Then, when the war came, she threw herself completely into it, nursed in France, worked with desperate seriousness and the severity of a brigadier general over those whom she commanded.
Toward the end of 1917 she broke down, had insomnia, came back to England to rest, found it a much longer business than she had expected, and was not really her old self again until after the Armistice.
Then Miss Maxwell discovered that her finances were queer. In the first place it cost twice as much to live as it had done. Her little staff of three were loyal and affectionate, but they had to be fed. Some investments into which she was led by a kindly but rather feckless friend had done anything but well. She was warm-hearted and hated to refuse the adorable spare bedroom to a friend, with the result that there was always some one coming or going. People dropped in for meals in the jolliest and most unexpected way.
There was nothing that she loved so much as to hear people praise the house. Some of the praise, she knew, was insincere, but every now and then she heard that real catch in the throat, the “Oh, my dear, but it’s lovely!” when the first glimpse was caught of the corner of the library with the long windows looking out on the trees, the dark blue ceiling, the white book shelves, the gold mirror, and the very best picture she had, a lovely Clausen watercolor, cottages, a silver-gray pool and faintly blue hills.
In her own heart of hearts she thought that nobody else’s books looked quite so perfect in their shelves as did hers. They seemed to like the room that they were in. They wanted to show her that they did, and there was so much sun in that library that although their backs might be dimmed just a little, their hearts were thoroughly warm, and some of the most cynical books in the world became quite amiable and kindly from living in that particular corner of that library. In fact, after reading Stendhal one winter very seriously, she moved him, bag and baggage, from the rather chilly corner by the door and put him in the sun-drenched spot near the window and hoped it would do him good.
She adored the house, every nook and cranny of it, from the basement, which ought to have been dark and was not, up to the two little rooms at the top which were so hot in fine weather that nobody could sleep there and so cold in the winter that you had to wear a fur coat when you went into them. But the house on the whole was of a fine temperature and it had a way of always keeping one warm room on a cold day and one really cool one in the height of the summer; so that it surprised you. In fact it looked after you and seemed to take the greatest care that it should have as few dilapidations as possible.
Best of all was its color. Miss Maxwell adored the color. She said what was true enough, that there were a great many gray days in London and that you couldn’t have too much orange, too much purple, and too many burning reds. That is not to say that she went in for all the eccentric colors of which people are so fond to-day, so that you do your dining-room in black and orange, and for the first month it looks like the back cloth of an Eastern musical comedy, and the second month, it looks like the shop of a decorator who is not quite able to make both ends meet, and the third month it looks so shabby and dusty that you have to change all its colors and start over again.
No, she was not eccentric. She had silver-gray wallpapers and white bookcases. Then she had also certain things she had found abroad, some bronzes, two splendid Chinese horses, some Japanese prints, some Spanish shawls, and upstairs, in a little dressing-room next her bedroom, a beautiful little collection of English pottery.
ALL these things she adored with a personal, individual adoration. She didn’t understand the people to whom possession meant nothing at all. The Chinese horses and a Wedgwood bowl and two Jane Austen first editions and the Clausen picture were quite as personal to her as certain of her friends; a great deal more personal than most of her acquaintances. But all these things were sunk in the final adorable charm of the house itself. The house was her friend, her counselor, her consoler in distress, her doctor when she was ill, her companion when she couldn’t sleep, some one who loved her and was intensely grateful for her own love. All this she felt when the horrible time came when she suddenly had to let the house and leave it because she couldn’t afford to live there until times were better.
She was successful in her let, that is, she discovered a very pretty girl who loved the house at first sight, who was apparently quiet and orderly, who didn’t keep dogs and didn’t care for dancing. (So she said.) She was so pretty, this Miss March, that it really was charming to see her in the house. She was ready also to take on the little staff of three and she told Miss Maxwell that she would be delighted to see her whenever she liked to call.
The actual leaving the house, therefore, was not so terrible as Miss Maxwell had expected. It was horrible, of course, but Miss Maxwell went down to Eastbourne, sat beside the sea, and thought about that pretty creature moving in and out, up and down, and counted the months until things would be better, her investments would go up, and she would be able to go back again. That was at first, but gradually, day by day, she felt more and more that the house was longing for her. She suddenly, on the wildest spur of the moment, when she was shopping and was intending to go back to her lodging and have her lunch, took a train up to London instead, walked through the dusky afternoon to St. John’s Wood, looked through the little gates, rang the bell, asked if Miss March were at home, was told by a severe-looking woman that she was not, and crept back to Eastbourne again.
The sight of the severe-looking woman made things very much worse. What had happened to the dear little house-parlor maid who loved everything in the house quite as much as Miss Maxwell? This woman evidently loved nothing and nobody. She wrote to Miss March and received a rather stiff little letter in return saying that the staff had been added to, that one of the water pipes had burst, and that a sister of Miss March had caught a severe cold by sleeping in the little room under the roof. Miss Maxwell, feeling exactly as though she had had a daughter who had gone to her first ball and been found by a number of people to be plain and awkward, came up to London and saw Miss March.
The girl didn’t seem so pretty as she had been. She was discontented and pouted. St. John’s Wood was such a long way from everywhere and she did hope that she hadn’t mislaid any of the books but one never knew what a friend would do when one’s back was turned, and it was strange how little conscience people had about books anyway. Some strange people came in to tea while Miss Maxwell was there; loud, noisy people who cared nothing, Miss Maxwell was certain, for beautiful things, probably laughed at the Chinese horses and thought books were stuffy. The end of this was that Miss Maxwell took two little rooms just round the corner—poky little rooms with a slatternly landlady, but from their windows you had a view of the house, could look right into the garden, and even, if you hung out far enough, could see into the library.
WE ALL know what obsessions can be, and there is nothing stranger in life than the very little distance that is needed to lend enchantment. Miss Maxwell had always adored her house, but seen as it was now, in fragments, with a colored lawn, a brick wall, and several trees defending it, it was magical. Try as she would, Miss Maxwell could not concentrate upon anything else. She had many friends in London and, to grant them full justice, they were as friendly to her now as they had been in the days of her prosperity. She had a babies’ crèche in which she was interested and the old book shops and curiosity shops still fascinated her although she had so little money to spend in them; but gradually, week by week, day by day, and at last hour by hour, the house led her away. She was a sensible woman, a modern woman, not of the kind to take sentimental passions and to allow them to tear her to pieces; this thing nevertheless completely overrode her.
Had she had more confidence in Miss March, had she not been so persistently aware of the austerity of the female servant, this passion might not have grown upon her; but it was exactly as though some nice girl whom she knew had made an unfortunate marriage, was being bullied by a brute of a husband, and her tears and even her cries could be realized from Miss Maxwell’s rooms. The house protested. Of course it did.
After a while, when summer came down upon London and all the trees were rich and full, and flowers were scenting the byways of St. John’s Wood, Miss Maxwell became afraid of her obsession. “You are really getting queer,” she said to herself one evening as she looked at herself in the glass, “and must look out or you will be doing something silly.” What she had been doing that afternoon was practically to press her nose against the railings and look through a rather dusty laurel into the garden beyond. There in the garden, very pretty in a pink summer frock, was Miss March giving tea to a rather stout gentleman with a round face like a moon. Miss Maxwell, as she peered through, soon discovered two things—one, that the gentleman with the moon face was rich, and another, that he was in love with Miss March. She judged the first because of his clothes, his self-satisfied air, and his gestures, which were as though he was scattering gold upon the grass and didn’t mind if the sparrows ran away with most of it. For the other, there could be no mistake. His eyes, as Miss Maxwell told herself, were liquid with love and when Miss March very daintily gave him some sugar in his tea he didn’t look at the sugar at all but only at Miss March, which, in a gentleman who was quite obviously fond of his food, was proof positive.
Miss Maxwell was ashamed of herself for gazing through the railings like a street boy and a policeman floating past looked at her very suspiciously. She was, however, so respectable and fine-looking a woman that she ran no serious risk.
That evening, having a gay old woman to supper, she discussed the affair, and the first thing that the gay old woman said was: “Why, my dear, if he’s rich and in love with that young woman, he’ll soon propose to her, she will accept him, and then leave the house.”
“Why should they leave the house?” asked Miss Maxwell, her heart beating fast at the mere idea.
“Why, you don’t suppose,” said the gay old woman, “that a man who’s rich and fat will live in a poky little house in St. John’s Wood! Oh, my dear! I beg your pardon,” she went on; “of course I don’t mean ‘poky.’ Of course it’s a jewel of a house but not the thing at all for married people who will have motor cars and large dinner parties and possibly an aëroplane or two.”
This idea was terrific. The one thought that Miss Maxwell had was that Miss March should leave the house. She didn’t in the least mind at the moment who took it next. It might be herself. A rich old uncle in South Africa might die, or shares go up, or she herself might discover a new sort of radium, or the heavens might fall. The great thing was for Miss March to go.
“Do you think,” said the gay old woman, “that he has proposed to her yet?”
“Oh, no!” said Miss Maxwell. “The way she was giving him sugar proved that. If he had proposed, she would have been much less interested. I am quite sure that she wants him to propose.”
“Well, then,” said her friend, “if she wants him to propose and he’s in love with her, there you are then.”
THE next stage in this story was that Miss Maxwell actually met and spoke to the stout gentleman. She was always hanging about the little leafy street that ran past the gate of her house, and one afternoon, about six, the gentleman suddenly came out of the gate in a great hurry, his face rather flushed, ran straight into her and nearly knocked her down. He was dreadfully distressed about this. He was of the old-fashioned school, now nearly extinct, that believes in courtesy to ladies, and his hand rested upon her arm for quite a long time while he wished to make sure that she suffered no sort of damage and that she bore him no grudge.
Miss Maxwell laughed in her frank, charming way.
“Harm! No, I should think not,” she said. “I’m very glad to have met you.”
“Glad to have met me,” he stammered, looking very foolish.
“Yes,” she said, “because as a matter of fact that is my house. You have been going into it a great deal lately. I love it more than anything else on earth. I had to let it, but I simply hated doing it. I’m always wondering how it’s getting on and now you can tell me.”
“How it’s getting on?” he repeated, in a puzzled way. “Why, it’s all right, I think.”
“Do you go into it much?” she asked.
They were by this time quite unconsciously walking down the road together.
“Do you go up to the very top of it and down to the very bottom of it? Are the Chinese horses all right? Of course I ought to have put them away, and the Wedgwood, and a lot of the books, but I simply couldn’t bear that the house should be without them. I did send Jane Austen to the bank.”
“Send Jane Austen to the bank?” he repeated. He was gazing at her with admiration. He was obviously a gentleman on whom the other sex made a strong appeal.
“Yes, my first editions of her. They are very good and worth a great deal of money, but they’re worth much more to me. Any amount of coin. You don’t collect first editions, I suppose?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” he said stammering.
“How do you mean ‘not exactly’?” said Miss Maxwell sharply. “You either collect first editions or you don’t. You can’t do it half and half.”
“No, I see what you mean,” he answered laughing. “That was stupid of me. But I am stupid.”
She liked that. It was extraordinary how intimate you could become with some people in a very short time.
“You like Miss March very much, don’t you?” she said.
“How do you know that?” he asked, blushing. He blushed very often.
“I saw you having tea with her on the lawn,” she answered. “I looked through the railings.”
“Yes, I do like her very much. She is very pretty. I’m thinking of asking her to be my wife. I want a wife,” he went on confidently, just as though he had said he wanted a new hat. “I’m forty-two and have been a widower for seven years, and every year it has been more and more difficult.”
“What has?” she asked him.
“Being a widower,” he answered.
“That’s not a very good reason for marrying Miss March,” she said.
“Oh, but I do like her most immensely,” he answered. “She’s so pretty and kind.”
“Pretty, she is,” said Miss Maxwell. “What you have to ask yourself is as to whether she will be kind when she’s hooked you. There’s such a difference before and after.”
“Hooked me?” He stopped. They were near St. John’s Wood station. “What a horrible idea!”
“Well, of course she wants to marry you,” said Miss Maxwell. “Very soon she’ll not be as young as she is now, and you’re rich and I think good-natured.”
“How do you know so much about me?” he asked, staring at her in amazement.
“I’m observant,” said Miss Maxwell.
“I should just think you are,” he said, looking at her quite obviously ablaze with admiration.
“Tell me one thing,” said Miss Maxwell. “If you propose to her and she marries you, will you live in this house?”
“I should think not. As it is, she says it’s too small for her and miles away from anywhere.”
“Too small for her, and miles away from anywhere?” Miss Maxwell retorted indignantly. “She is no more worthy of that house than she is of you. However, I hope she’ll marry you,” she added.
On that they parted and it was quite astonishing how often afterward they met. And yet it was perhaps not altogether astonishing, for Miss Maxwell was so often in that road and the gentleman, whose name was Mr. Herbert Willings, had reached that stage in courtship when very frequent visits are necessary. Moreover, he had that nature that demands a sympathetic friend.
There was a little public garden round the corner, a very small one and a dusty, but it had in it a bench and upon this bench Miss Maxwell and Mr. Willings used to sit and he poured out to her his longings, his hopes, and asked her endless questions as to what she thought about Miss March’s character. Because, after all, he was forty-two, and behind his ardor was a natural middle-aged caution.
She herself was pulled in two opposite directions. She was as certain as she had ever been of anything that Miss March would make him very miserable. She had a kind of tenderness for him, he was so childish and so naïf, and she really didn’t want him to be miserable for the rest of his days, as he undoubtedly would be if he married Miss March. On the other hand it might be good for him to be less comfortable, less stout, and have to face for once the realities of life. And then she wanted him to marry, she wanted it terribly.
She tried to make him understand a little what she felt about the house. She made him pay special visits to various rooms into which it was quite evident Miss March had not intended him to enter. She asked him all sorts of questions about the hang of the curtains, whether the carpets were brushed, how many pieces of china had been broken, and he was caught once by Miss March counting the cups and saucers behind the glass case in her bedroom; and this, as he told Miss Maxwell, made her extremely angry. He had never seen Miss March angry before, and quite frankly he hadn’t liked it.
Miss Maxwell soon perceived that he would never have her feeling about the house. He simply didn’t understand those things. A picture, if it had plenty of color, wasn’t bad on a wall, and a row of books, were they nicely bound, looked pleasant in a bookcase. He had to confess that he didn’t read very much himself, but liked a good detective story when he was sleepy after a hard day’s work. He thought the Chinese horses rather absurd and treated her to quite a long lecture on the Yellow Peril.
The weeks advanced and at last the time arrived when he intended to propose. He asked her advice very often as to the proper time and place in which to make his venture. She told him that in her opinion nothing was better than tea-time on the lawn, the shadows stealing across the grass, sparrows twittering, flowers sleepily closing their eyes and plenty of little pink cakes on the table. And then as fate and the English climate would have it, the rain came down. Although it was July, it was cold as December. Tea on the lawn was impossible and a whole ten days went by when Mr. Willings had so nasty a cold that proposing was a physical impossibility. Then the fine day came.
MISS MAXWELL knew very well that the day had arrived. When she saw the sun splashing across her carpet in the morning, the first thing that she said to herself was, “Now he’ll propose to her to-day.”
They had come, without spoken word, to a kind of agreement that they would meet in the little dusty park on most fine days somewhere around five in the evening: that is to say, if she were free, she would go, and if he were free he would go, without any very definite agreement, and it was surprising how often accident led them in the same direction.
To-day, on this perfectly lovely afternoon, about half-past five, she was sitting on the bench watching the sparrows and waiting with terrific emotion for his appearance. She was sure that he would come to-day. To-day of all days he would need a confidant, some one into whose sympathetic ear he could pour every word of the wonderful occasion. Had she a sympathetic ear? She was not so sure. She felt in some mysterious way guilty. They would not be happy together. There was not the least chance of it. Miss March would lead him such a dance as Miss Maxwell trembled to contemplate. But what did that matter, compared with the house?
As she sat there, she realized that what was happening on this wonderful afternoon was that the house was being given back to her. He must propose and she must accept him, and they, being engaged, released the house. It was as simple as an easy sum in algebra. The house being released, in some way or other she would hold on to it. She couldn’t see now in what way that would be, but never again, she swore, digging the end of her parasol violently into the dusty soil, would she let it be delivered over to the mercies of an unsympathetic tenant. After all, she could live in one of the small rooms at the top of the house on bread and cheese and open the other rooms one after another as her investments went up. She could feast her eyes on the Chinese horses, the darlings, and go over the house at night, touching the pictures with her hands, listening to every piece of furniture as it whispered to her “Good night,” see the ghostly gleam of the china, hear the faint rustle of the curtains against the half open window.
THERE was a step. She looked up.
There was Mr. Willings, more flushed in the face than usual, greatly agitated. He sat down beside her, and then to her surprise, instead of bursting into a torrent of explanation, he said nothing.
“Well,” she broke in at last.
He still said nothing.
“Tell me that she’s accepted, you,” she cried, “and then give me all the details.”
“She hasn’t accepted me.”
“Good heavens, what a fool!” Miss Maxwell, in her agitation, turned full upon him. “You don’t mean to tell me she’s refused you? Why, it’s exactly what she wants! She won’t get such another chance in a hundred years. She’s going off. She’s got some money, of course, but not nearly enough, and you’re so kind.”
Her expressions were mixed, but her meaning was clear.
“She hasn’t refused me.”
“She hasn’t refused you?”
“Nor accepted you?”
“Then she’s going to wait and think it over.”
“No, not that either.”
“Then … Good heavens! Mr. Willings, tell me what you mean. I can’t endure the suspense any longer.”
“What I mean is simple enough.”
His expression was almost sulky, as he turned toward her.
“What I mean is that I haven’t proposed.”
Miss Maxwell was so bitterly disappointed that she could say. nothing.
“I haven’t proposed,” he went on doggedly, “and I don’t intend to. I’m never going to propose. I don’t love her. I don’t want her to be my wife.”
Miss Maxwell rose bravely out of her disappointment. Curiosity held her again.
“You’re not going to propose, and you don’t love her? You loved her that day all right when I pressed my nose against the railings. I could see your love oozing out all over the lawn from behind miles of shrubbery. How can you change so quickly?”
“I might have loved her,” he said, his face bright crimson, “if I hadn’t run into you in the road; but you can’t love two people at once—or I can’t.”
She was too utterly amazed to do anything but gasp.
“Why, man, you don’t mean to say—” she began.
“Yes, I do,” he went on, staring at her. “I fell in love with you after the very first day, and it’s gone on increasing ever since. How can a chit of a thing like that compare with you, with your wisdom and your kindness, and your fun, and—and—your beauty.”
“My beauty?” said Miss Maxwell.
“Yes, your beauty,” he said, stammering in his agitation. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Your quiet gray eyes——”
“Oh, please, Mr. Willings!”
Miss Maxwell wanted to laugh, looked at the piteous doglike expression in his large round eyes, and was touched with tenderness.
“Now do think for a moment. Here we are in a dusty little park in St. John’s Wood and we’re both middle-aged and nothing could make us romantic any longer. There is a beautiful young girl with all her life in front of her. I’m a withered old thing and you know it in yourself. Besides. I’m in love with somebody else.”
His face fell, so it was tragic to see.
“In love with somebody else?”
“Yes, with my house. I can’t think of anything or anybody but my house.”
“Why, then, don’t you see,” he cried triumphantly, “you shall have your house. We’ll turn that girl out of it and you shall live in it for the rest of your days. You’ll have to put up with me, of course, but I’ll do my best not to be in the way.”
They were both such charming people that a small sparrow that had been hopping about in a businesslike fashion on the path, stopped a moment and looked at them in sheer admiration, with his head on one side.
The dazzling vision blinded her. She didn’t love him, no, not the least little bit. She looked at him, even in that moment of amazement, quite clearly and dispassionately, and saw how fat and bald he would be, even in another five years, and heard him snore in his sleep, and felt his heavy tread as he came toward her when she was tired and inquired solicitously whether she wanted anything, and saw the silly smile of happy satisfaction in his face when he bought her a new hat, and perceived precisely his air of touching proprietorship as he walked across a well-filled restaurant toward the table that he had so carefully chosen. She saw all this, but she saw on the other hand quite clearly a life of ease and affluence, no more struggles, no more watching your shares go down, no more wondering what she could do to get a new dress without paying for it, and, above all, the house, the house, the house—hers for ever and ever. Yes, but his too. He didn’t care for the house; he would pretend to, but he would never be able to hide it from her. He would take it all in the wrong way. He would insult the Chinese horses by ignorantly praising them. He would break her china and tell her that he could easily find her another piece. He would buy her a picture to hang in the house and it would be an awful thing. Nevertheless, she was deeply touched.
“I can’t tell you,” she said, “what a compliment you’ve paid me. We’ll be friends always, won’t we, whatever happens?”
His face fell directly.
“Oh, I know what it means when you say that,” he said. “I don’t want us to be friends. I want you to marry me.”
“But I don’t love you.”
“You will grow to care for me,” he said. “I’m sure you will. I’ll be ever so patient.”
How many thousands upon thousands of people had said those very words before? How many thousands of people were probably saying those words at that very moment throughout the world?
She looked at him, looked away, said at last: “Give me a week. We won’t meet for a week, nor write, nor anything at all. Be here this same time to-day week, rain or shine, and I will give you my answer; but remember, whatever my answer is, that I shall never forget how kind you have been. I shall always be grateful.”
She got up then and left him.
THERE followed then the most critical week of her life. She sat in her little room, looking over at the garden, and fought her severest battle. No one would ever propose to her again. Of that she was quite sure. There was very little prospect that, left alone by herself, she would ever find life very easy. Life was not very easy any more to middle-aged women with very small incomes and no talents. She would struggle and struggle and later on perhaps ill-health would come. She would be alone in the world and the grim finale was more than she, however brave she might be, could fully contemplate. He would always be kind, much too kind. She would dominate him utterly. When she was cross (and sometimes she was very cross indeed) he would be sorry and go out and buy her something and beg her pardon for some fault that she herself had committed. There would always be somebody to look after her. When she was ill, there would be every attention. They would go abroad and see the world. Most of all, she would not only live in the house but she would be able to do things to it, make it perfect and beautiful and wonderful, give it all the little attentions it needed, help it and strengthen it and make it lovely and at last die in it.
Yes, but he would be there. Every moment of their life together, he would be misunderstanding the house. She would never, never be able to make him see it. There was nothing that she would do for it that he wouldn’t misunderstand. She would be forever fighting for it, trying to keep it out of his hands, trying to prevent him messing it about, and if she went away for a week only, she would be haunted all the time by the knowledge that he would be moving the furniture, trying to make it better for her, and making it infinitely worse. However strongly she dominated him, she would never prevent his personality from pervading it, and the inevitable moment would surely come when she would implore him to leave it and probably find that the only thing to do was for them both to go and live somewhere else.
Common-sense readers of this little story will say at once that it is fantastically impossible. No middle-aged spinster with no future would surrender a comfortable, safe and assured life for such a reason. It was not fantastic to Miss Maxwell. The beauty of that house was the test for her of all the beauty in the world, the only test, and it had to be kept pure and immaculate, and if it were not so, the color of the world would change. Nothing would ever be quite immaculate again.
That was a terrible week. She sat at her window, looking over at the house, struggling, thinking first one thing and then another. Then one evening, just the day before she was to meet him again, a marvelous thing happened. It was a lovely summer evening, with a half moon, crocus-colored, rising ever so gently into the faint blue sky. She suddenly determined that she would go and see Miss March.
She rang the bell and stood waiting, trembling with excitement. The horse-faced servant opened the door. Miss March was out. Might Miss Maxwell go just for a moment to the room at the top of the house and look for a little box that she had left there and forgotten? The servant hesitated and then yielded.
Through the rooms Miss Maxwell went. They were soaked with the evening light, the light through which she loved most to see them. The whole house cried out with protest as she went. Ugly things lay everywhere, hideous new novels with bright yellow labels. In the dining-room the remains of a horrible meal not yet cleared away. In the beautiful little blue-walled drawing-room there was a loathsome Pekingese that whimpered at her like a child as she entered. On the sofa and the chairs there were those bright new purple and orange cushions that she so thoroughly detested. On the carpet on the way up to the bedroom some one had spilled something that lay like a stain upon the whole house’s decorum, and the bedroom—the mess that it was! Even the horse-faced servant felt something of this and said that it was wonderful how perpetually on the move Miss March had been.
In the little room at the top of the house there was desolation. No one had touched it for months. It was dusty and neglected and forlorn. Miss Maxwell looked out of theattic window and saw the moon and the pale green sky and the dark trees coming up to her like old friends from the dusky garden. She leaned out and forgot everything. Her hands pressed on the little wooden sill. Her eyes filled with repentant tears. She heard the servant’s voice.
“ I’M THINKING Miss March won’t be here much longer,” the servant said. “She is considering giving up the rest of the lease, she tells me. It don’t suit her. Too far out for ’er friends. I’m sure I don’t wonder,” she ended with a sniff.
Miss Maxwell turned round, her heart beating with joy.
“It is too far out for her,” she cried triumphantly. “It’s not the house for her at all. She doesn’t understand it.”
The servant looked at Miss Maxwell with a stern pity.
“Maybe, miss,” was all she said.
As they went downstairs the house seemed to gather around them and Miss Maxwell felt as if some one put a hand on her shoulder and a voice whispered in her ear: “We’re so glad you’re coming back. We don’t want anybody here but you.”
On the following afternoon Miss Maxwell refused Mr. Willings.