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- Harriet and the Piper - 1/54 -


THE WORKS OF KATHLEEN NORRIS

HARRIET AND THE PIPER

VOLUME XI

TO

DANIEL WEBB NYE

DEAR MAKER OF BOOKS AND FRIENDS

HARRIET AND THE PIPER

CHAPTER I

Richard Carter had called the place "Crownlands," not to please himself, or even his wife. But it was to his mother's newly born family pride that the idea of being the Carters of Crownlands made its appeal. The estate, when he bought it, had belonged to a Carter, and the tradition was that two hundred years before it had been a grant of the first George to the first of the name in America. Madame Carter, as the old lady liked to be called, immediately adopted the unknown owner into a vague cousinship, spoke of him as "a kinsman of ours," and proceeded to tell old friends that Crownlands had always been "in the family."

It was a home hardly deserving of the pretentious name, although it was beautiful enough, and spacious enough, for notice, even among the magnificent neighbours that surrounded it. It was of creamy brick, colonial in design, and set in splendid lawns and great trees on the bank of the blue Hudson. White driveways circled it, great stables and garages across a curve of green meadows had their own invisible domain, and on the shining highway there was a full mile of high brick fence, a marching line of great maples and sycamores, and a demure lodge beside the mighty iron gates.

Much of this was as Richard Carter had found it five years ago, but about the house, inside and out, his wife had made changes, had lent the place something of her own individuality and charm. It was Isabelle Carter who had visualized the window-boxes and the awnings, the walks where emerald grass spouted between the bricks, the terrace with its fat balustrade and shallow marble steps descending to the river. Great stone jars, spilling the brilliant scarlet of geraniums, flanked the steps, and the shadows of the mighty trees fell clear and sharp across the marble. And on a soft June afternoon, sitting in the silence and the fragrance with boats plying up and down the river, and birds twittering and flashing at the brim of the fountain, one might have dreamed one's self in some forgotten Italian garden rather than a short two hours' trip away from the busiest and most congested city of the world.

On one of the wide benches that were placed here and there on the descending terraces, in the late hours of an exquisite summer afternoon, a man and a woman were sitting. They had strolled slowly from the tennis court, where half-a-dozen young persons were violently exercising themselves in the sunshine, with the vague intention of reaching the tea table, on the upper level. But here, in the clear shade, Isabelle Carter had suddenly seated herself, and Anthony Pope, her cavalier, had thrown himself on the steps at her feet.

She was a woman worthy of the exquisite setting, and in her richly coloured gown, against the clear cream of the marble, the new green of the trees and lawns, and the brilliant hues of the flowers, she might well have turned an older head than that of the boy beside her. Brunette, with smooth cheeks deeply touched with rose, black eyes, and a warmly crimson mouth that could be at once provocative and relentless, she glowed like a flower herself in the sweet and enervating heat of the summer's first warm day. She wore a filmy gown of a dull cream colour, with daring great poppies in pink and black and gold embroidered over it; her lacy black hat, shadowing her clear forehead and smoke-black hair, was covered with the soft pink flowers. She was the tiniest of women, and the little foot, that, in its transparent silk stocking and buckled slipper, was close to Anthony's hand, was like a child's.

The man was twice her size, and as dark as she, earnest, eager, and to-day with a troubled expression clouding his face. It was to banish that look, if she might, that Isabelle had deliberately stopped him here.

She had been behaving badly toward him, and in her rather irresponsible and shallow way she was sorry for it. Isabelle was a famous flirt, her husband knew it, everyone knew it. There was always some man paying desperate court to her, and always half-a- dozen other men who were eager to be in his place. Now it was a painter, now a singer, now one of the men of her husband's business world. They sent her orchids and sweets, and odd bits of jewellery, and curious fans and laces, and pictures and brasses, and quaint pieces of china. They sent her tremendously significant letters, just the eloquent word or two, the little oddity of date or signature or paper that was to impress her with an individuality, or with the depth of a passion. Isabelle lived for this, went from one adventure to another with the naive confidence of a woman whose husband smiles upon her playing, and whose position is impregnable.

But this boy, this Anthony, was different. In the first place he was young, he was but twenty-six. In the second place he was, or had been, her own son's closest friend. Ward Carter was twenty- two, and his mother nineteen years older.

Yes, she was forty-one, although neither she nor her mirror admitted it readily. Anthony, she thought, must realize it. He must realize that his feeling for her was unthinkable, not to say absurd. It had taken her by surprise, this last conquest. She had known the boy only a few weeks. Ward had brought him home for a visit, at Easter, but Isabelle, besides admiring his unusual beauty and identifying him with the Pope fortune, had paid him small attention. She had been absorbed then in the wretched conclusion of the Foster affair. Derrick Foster had been distressing and annoying her unmercifully. After the warm and delightful friendship of several months, after luncheons and teas, opera and concerts in the greatest harmony, Derrick Foster had had the daring, the impudence, to imply--to insinuate--

Well, Isabelle had gotten rid of him, although she could not yet think of him without scarlet colour in her cheeks. And it had been on a particularly trying afternoon, when the unshed tears of anger and hurt pride had been making her fine eyes heavier and more mysterious than usual, that this nice boy, this handsome friend of Ward, had gone riding with her, and had shown such charming sympathy for her dark mood. They had had tea at the Country Club, and Tony, as she had begun at once to call him, had been wonderfully amusing and soothing. Isabelle, when they came back to the house, had turned impulsively in the hall, had laid her small hand, in its dashing gauntlet, upon his big shoulder.

"You've carried me over an ugly bog, Little Boy!" she had said. "I like you--such a lot!"

That was six weeks ago, but in those short six weeks the little boy that she had patronized had entirely upset her preconceived ideas of him. He was young, and he was absurd, but he did not know it, and Isabelle began to feel the difficulty of keeping the whole world from discovering it before he did. He made no secret of his passion. He came straight to her in any company; he never looked at anybody else. The young girls to whom she introduced him bored him, he was rude to them. To her own daughter Nina, seventeen years old, his attitude was almost paternal; he ignored Ward as if their friendship had never been. Toward Richard Carter, who was pleasantly hospitable toward the lad, he showed an icy and trembling politeness.

Isabelle saw now that she had made a mistake. She should have killed this affair at the very beginning. Tony was not like the older men, willing to play the game with just a little scorching of fingers. Appearances meant nothing to Tony, and she had let the play go too far now to convince him that she did not return something of his feeling.

Indeed, to her own amazement, his fire kindled fire in return. When he was not at Crownlands she could laugh at him, even though her thoughts were full of him. But when he was there, life to her was more radiant, more full, more glowing with colour and fragrance. The books he touched, the chair he had at breakfast, his young, lithe body in its golfing knickerbockers, or his sleek black head above the dull black of evening wear, haunted her oddly. He troubled her, but she had neither quite the power nor quite the desire to banish him.

She looked down at him now, content to be alone with her and at her feet, and a hundred mixed emotions stirred her. His feeling for her was not only pitiable and absurd in him, but it was rapidly reaching the point when it would make her absurd and pitiable, too. Nina, instinctively scenting the affair, had already expressed herself as "hating that idiot"; Ward had scowled, of late, at the mere mention of Tony's name. Even her husband, the patient Richard, seeing the youth ensconce himself firmly beside her in the limousine, had had aside his mild comment: "Is this young man a fixture in our family, dear?"

"You should be playing tennis, Tony," said Isabelle.

"Tennis!" He laughed; there was a slight movement of his broad shoulders.

"I think Miss Betty Allen was a little disappointed," the woman pursued. A look of distaste crossed Anthony's face.

"Please--CHERIE!" he begged.

There was a silence brimming with sweetness and colour. Tony laid his hand against her knee, groped until her own warm, smooth fingers were in his own.


Harriet and the Piper - 1/54

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