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- The Window-Gazer - 30/55 -
twice and, upon leaving the room abruptly, had banged the door.
So, because Mary was unavailable for discussion, desire had to think about her. She had to wonder whether her hair was really? And whether her eyes really were? She wanted to know. If she could find someone who had known Mary, some entirely unprejudiced person who would tell her, she might be able to dismiss the subject from her mind. And surely, in Bainbridge, there must be someone?
But she had been in Bainbridge a month now. People had called. And she was still as ignorant as ever. She had been so sure that someone would mention Mary almost at once. She had felt that people would simply not be able to refrain from hinting to the bride a knowledge of her husband's unhappy past. There were so many ways in which it might be done. Someone might say, "When I heard that Professor Spence was married, I felt sure that the bride would have dark hair because--oh, what am I saying! Please, may I have more tea?" But no one, not even the giddiest flapper of them all, had said even that! Perhaps, incredible as it might seem, Bainbridge did not know about Mary? She had been, Desire remembered, a visitor there when Benis met her. Perhaps her stay had been brief. Perhaps the ill-fated courtship had taken place elsewhere? Even then, it seemed almost unbelievably stupid of Bainbridge not to have known something. But of course, she had not met nearly everybody. This fact lent excitement to the idea of the reception. Something might be said at any moment.
If not--there was still John. John must know. A man does not keep the news of a serious love affair from his best friend. Some day, when John knew her well enough, he might speak, delicately, of that lost romance. Yes. She would have to cultivate John.
Luckily, John was easily cultivated. He had been quite charming to her from the very first. He thought of her comfort continually, almost too continually--but that, no doubt, was medical fussiness. He insisted, for instance, upon putting wraps about her shoulders after dewfall and refused to believe that she never caught cold. Only last night he had left early saying that she must get her beauty sleep so as to be fresh for the reception.
"One would think," she had said, sauntering with him to the gate, "that the guests might decide to eat me instead of the ices. Why do you all expect me to quake and shiver? They can't really do anything to me, I suppose?"
"Do?" The doctor was absent-minded. "Do? Oh, they can do things all right. But," with quite unnecessary emphasis, "their worst efforts won't be a patch on the things you will do to them. Why, you'll add ten years to the age of everyone over twenty and make the others feel like babes in arms. You'll raise all their vibrations to boiling point and remain yourself as cool and pulseless as--as you are now."
Desire was surprised, but she was reasonable.
"If you can tell me why my vibrations should raise themselves," she said, "I will see what can be done."
The doctor had gone home gloomily.
"He is really very moody, for a doctor," thought desire, as she sauntered back through the dusk. "It seems to me that he needs cheering up."
Then she probably forgot him, for certainly no thought of his gloominess disturbed her beauty sleep. A fresher or more glowing bride had never gathered flowers for her own reception. She had carried them into all the rooms; careless for once of their cool aloofness; making them welcome her whether they would or not. Then, as the stir of preparation ceased and the house sank into perfumed quiet, she had slipped back into her own pink and grey room for a breathing space before it was time to dress.
At Aunt Caroline's earnest request she had taken Yorick with her. "For," said Aunt Caroline, "I refuse to receive guests with that bird within hearing distance. The things he says are bad enough but I have a feeling that he knows many things which he hasn't said yet. And people are sensitive. Only the other day when old Mrs. Burton was calling him 'Pretty Pol,' he burst into that dreadful laugh of his and told her to 'Shake a leg'! How the creature happened to know about the scandal of her early youth I can't say. But it is quite true that she did dance on the stage. She grew quite purple when that wretched bird threw it up to her."
Desire had laughed and promised to sequestrate Yorick for the afternoon. He had taken the insult badly and was now muttering protests to himself with throaty noises which exploded occasionally in bursts of bitter laughter.
It was too early to dress for another hour but already the dress lay ready on the bed. Desire had chosen it with care. She had no wedding-dress. Bridal white would have seemed--well, dangerously near the humorous. She would have feared that half-smile with which Spence was wont to appreciate life's pleasantries. But the gown upon the bed was the last word in smartness and charm. In color it was like pale sunlight through green water. It was both cool and bright. Against it, her warm, white skin glowed warmer and whiter; her leaf- brown hair showed more softly brown. Its skirt was daintily short and beneath it would show green stockings that shimmered, and slippers that were vanity.
Desire sat in the window seat and allowed herself to be quite happy. "If I could just sit here forever," she mused. "If someone could enchant me, just as I am, with the sun warm on the tips of my toes and this little wind, so full of flowers, cool upon my face. If I need never again hear anything save the drone of sleepy bees, the chirping of fat robins and the hum of a lawn-mower--"
She sat up suddenly. Who could be mowing the west lawn in the heat of the day? Desire, forgetting about the enchantment, leaned out to see. Surely it couldn't be? And yet it certainly was. The lawn-mower man displayed the heated countenance of the bridegroom him-self.
"What is he thinking of?" groaned Desire. "He will make himself a rag--a perfect rag. I wonder Aunt Caroline allows it."
But Aunt Caroline was presumably occupied elsewhere. No one came to prevent the ragmaking of the professor, and Desire, after watching for a moment, raised her finger and gave the little searching call which had been their way of finding each other in the woods at Friendly Bay.
The professor stopped instantly, leaving the lawn-mower exactly where it was, in the middle of a swath. With an answering wave he crossed to the west room window and, with an ease which surprised his audience, drew his long slimness up the pillar of the porch and clambered over the railing into the small balcony.
"I can't come in by the front door," he explained, "on account of my boots. And I can't come in by the back door on account of Extra Help. I intended getting in eventually by the cellarway, but, if you want me, that would take too long. Besides, I wanted to show you how neatly I can shin up a post."
He smiled at her cheerfully. He was damp and flushed, but much brisker than Desire had thought. He did not look at all raglike. For the first time since their homecoming she seemed to see him with clear eyes. And she found him changed. He was younger. Some of the lines had smoothed out of his forehead. His face showed its cheekbones less sharply and his hair dipped charmingly, like an untidy boy's. His shirt was open at the throat. He did not look like a professor at all. Desire momentarily experienced what Dr. John had called a "heightening of vibration."
"Anything that I can do," offered he helpfully.
"The best thing will be to stop doing," suggested desire. "Don't you know that you're accessory to a reception this afternoon? Of course you are only the host, but it looks better to have the host unwilted."
"Like the salad? I hadn't thought of that. In fact I'm afraid I haven't been giving the matter serious attention. I must consult my secretary. How else should a host look?"
"He should look happy."
Benis noted this on his cuff.
Desire's eyes began to sparkle.
"If he is a bridegroom, as well as a host, he should be careful to look often at the bride."
"No chance," said Spence gloomily. "Not with the mob that's coming."
"Above all, he looks after his least attractive lady guests. And he never on any account slips away for a smoke with a stray gentleman friend."
The professor's gloom lightened. "Is there going to be a stray gentleman friend? Did old Bones promise?"
Desire nodded triumphantly.
"First time in captivity," murmured Spence. "How on earth did you manage it?"
"I simply asked him!"
"As easy as that?"
They both laughed as happy people laugh at merest nonsense.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" shrieked Yorick. "Go to it, give 'em hell!"
"I don't wonder Aunt Caroline dreads him," said desire. "His experience seems to have been lurid."
"Kiss her, you flat-foot, kiss her," shrieked the ribald Yorick.
"Sorry, old man," said Spence regretfully. "It's against the rules to kiss one's secretary."
Again they both laughed. But was it fancy, or was this laugh a trifle less spontaneous than the other? "Gracious!" said Desire, suddenly in a hurry, "I've hardly left myself time to dress."
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