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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGlory Of Youth - Chapter 8. The Empty House
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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 8. The Empty House Post by :svesty Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :May 2012 Read :1659

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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 8. The Empty House

CHAPTER VIII. THE EMPTY HOUSE

When the doctor came that night he was tired. The day had been a hard one, and he felt weighed down by the woes of those weak folk who bore so heavily on his strength.

He found Bettina alone. Diana and Sophie had gone to play bridge across the harbor, and only Delia in the garden and Peter Pan on the porch remained for chaperonage.

Bettina greeted her betrothed soberly, and held up her face to be kissed. "I said things about you yesterday," she confessed, as she and Anthony settled themselves on the porch where they could look out upon the lights. "I said things about you to Diana, and afterward we went to the Pirate House with Justin Ford for lunch, and I flirted with him----"

"What did you say about me?"

"That I hated your surgery--that it seemed dreadful."

He had been smiling, but he grew grave at once.

"You can't separate me from my work, child; you must take us together."

"Of course; I know that now. Diana was talking to me after we came home from our ride. She told me some of the wonderful things you had done, and of how people almost said their prayers to you."

"Not quite that--but it's my reward that so many of my patients are my friends because I have helped them."

"And Diana said that if I loved you I'd be glad--to let you--cut people up."

In spite of himself he laughed. She was irresistible.

"I shan't exact that of you. But at least you must not worry."

"And I won't have to live there?" anxiously.

"Where?"

"At the sanatorium?"

"Of course not. You'll live over there."

He pointed to a jutting rock on the top of which a big house loomed white in the moonlight.

"There? Oh, I'd love to go over it. Couldn't we, now?"

He hesitated. "Perhaps it would be better to wait till there are others." Then, seeing her disappointment, he agreed. "Well, if Delia will come too."

"Delia?"

"To open the rooms." He had not the heart to tell her how sharp were the tongues of the gossips of the little town.

So Delia, a little later, limped after them with Peter following, confidently.

"And you flirted with Justin," Anthony remarked on the way over.

"Yes. In the little tea room. Diana and Mrs. Martens sat at one table, and Mr. Ford and I at the other--and he was so funny--and I----Well, _any one looking on might have thought I was in earnest."

"What did Diana think?"

"Oh, she knows how I feel about you----"

"And Justin, does he know?"

"Of course not. It's not announced, you know."

"But if he should take you in earnest."

"Silly," Bettina tucked her hand in his arm, "nobody takes me in earnest--but you----"

Her hesitation was charming, but he did not respond ardently, and perhaps she missed something in his manner, for presently she asked, "Are you jealous?"

"My dear, no. Children must play----"

She sighed a little. "Am I such a child?"

He laughed again. "Of course, you're a mere baby--but a dear baby, Betty mine."

And with that she was content.

The big house was not furnished.

"I am going to put in the things which were in the old house before I turned it into a sanatorium. My grandfather was a sea captain, and I have a model of a ship carved by one of his sailors out of soup bones, and there are two great china tureens in the shape of swans, and some ivories and queer embroidered screens that I wouldn't take anything for. It's a sort of jumble for a modern residence, but I like it. And I have had the house built in a style which will be in keeping with my belongings. It's rocky and rugged and there's a fireplace in every room. I like to burn logs for cheerfulness even when there's a furnace--and to come home to the light of them on winter nights."

"I love pretty new things," Bettina informed him. "May I have all white for my room? With ivory things on my dresser with silver monograms, and--white fur rugs?"

Her room!

It came to Anthony, with the force of a blow, that there was no room in the big house for Bettina.

Why, that room was Diana's--that room which looked out on Minot's. He had thought of her as inhabiting it. He had never meant that the great light should say, "I love you," to Bettina.

For months, even when he felt that he had lost Diana, her spirit had seemed to dwell in the place he had planned for her. Whenever he had entered her room it had not seemed bare, for his imagination had filled it with the furniture which had been his grandmother's wedding set--the big canopied bed, the winged chair on the hearth, the quaint lyre-legged sewing table by the window. And on the other side of the hearth would be another chair--his own. And in that room he had seen Diana, his bride, in the moonlight; his wife, waiting in the winged chair to welcome him after a weary day.

And now this pretty child--and Diana banished? What had he done? What dreadful thing had he done?

Bettina, unconscious, said pleasant things about the living-room, the library, the great hall, the broad stairway--

As yet there was no connection for lighting, so they carried candles, Anthony holding one aloft for himself and Bettina, and Delia coming after with a taper. Peter, like a flash of flame, slipped ahead of Delia and was lost in the shadows.

They went into every room on the second floor before they entered the one which faced Minot's. To him it was the Holy of Holies, but Bettina stepped in boldly.

It was a great high-ceiled chamber with its distant corners made darker by the moonlight. Through the wide window which faced the south was a vast expanse of sky and sea. Anthony's house stood near the end of the harbor, so that across the causeway was the open water, a stretch of limitless blue.

Bettina shivered. "It's so big and dark."

"When it's furnished and the lights are on it will seem different."

Delia, arriving at that moment, added her contribution to the conversation.

"Miss Diana came over yesterday. Them's her white lilacs on the shelf."

The doctor held his candle higher. The flowers, in a great bowl of gray pottery, showed ghostly outlines beneath the flickering flame. To Anthony the air seemed thick and faint with their perfume.

"Let us go," he said to Bettina, quickly, and with his hand on her arm he led her away and shut the door.

Diana and Sophie, coming home at half-past ten, found the lovers on the porch, and the four talked together until Anthony said "Good-bye."

He made a professional call in a side street and found himself, afterward, turning toward the big empty house on the rocks. In that south room Diana's lilacs were wasting their sweetness, and he coveted the subtle suggestion they gave of her presence there.

* * * * *

Diana, helping Delia to lock up, asked, "Where's Peter?"

"Goodness knows," said Delia; "he followed me when we went over to the doctor's house, and I ain't seen him since."

Diana turned and looked at her. "The doctor's house? Who went?"

"Dr. Anthony and Miss Betty and me. They asked me. She hadn't ever seen it, and he wanted to show it to her."

Diana felt her heart stand still.

"Did you go--into every room, Delia?"

"Yes."

So he had taken little Betty there. They had entered that room to which, that very morning, she had carried white lilacs, moved by some impulse to call it her own until some one else should have the right to claim it.

"I'll look up Peter," she told Delia, hastily. "You needn't wait for me."

The town clock struck half-past eleven as she went through the garden--wraith-like in her long white wrap.

"Peter," she called softly, "Peter, Peter."

Following the path over the rocks, she came at last to the empty house.

A faint mew sounded from within. She turned the knob, and found the door unlocked. "Peter," she called again, and the big cat came forth, his tail waving like a plume.

Diana, facing the darkness of the great hall, felt impelled to enter, to slip silently up the stairs, to stand on the threshold of the moonlighted chamber, whence came the perfume of white lilacs.

And as she stood there, she saw, with a sudden leap of the heart, that Anthony was before her. Silhouetted against the wide space of the open window he was looking out at the flashing light.

She put her hand to her throat. She stepped back as if to escape. Then, swayed by an impulse which cast prudence to the winds, she spoke his name.

"Anthony!"

"Diana!"

He had turned from the window, and was peering through the dimness. He came toward her. She held out her hands to keep him back.

"Oh, please--no--no----"

But he took her in his arms.

When he let her go his face was white.

"There is no excuse for me," he said. "I know that. I've given my word of honor to that little child--who trusts me. Yet--this room belongs to you. Before you came to-night I touched the lilacs with my lips, and it seemed to me as if they were your lips--that I touched. And when I turned and saw you--white--like a bride--on the threshold--it was as I had seen you, night after night--in my dreams. You belong here and no other, Diana!"

What she said in reply Diana could never remember with any great distinctness. She only knew that she was trying to hold on as best she could to the best that was within her. Anthony in this moment of weakness was hers. Whatever she did now would bring him to her or send him away--perhaps forever. She struggled to think clearly--to raise some barrier between his awakened passion and her own wild desire to take what the gods had placed within easy reach of her hand.

Suddenly she found herself speaking. Her throat was dry and she was shaking from head to foot. But she was telling him that she had tried to use common sense. That she had asked Bettina to come to her hoping that there might be found some way out. But there _wasn't any way out, not any honorable way. And she didn't dare play Fate any longer. Not after to-night. Not after--_to-night_.

Her voice broke.

"Diana--dear girl----"

He put both of his strong hands on her shoulders, and so they faced each other in the illumined night.

"For just one little moment," he said, "we will have the truth. If I had not asked Betty you would have married me, Diana?"

"Yes."

"If there is any honorable way in which I can release myself, will you marry me now?"

She had a sudden vision of the slender, lonely child in shabby black as she had first seen her in the shadowy room.

"No, oh, _no_," she whispered.

"Why not?"

"Because there isn't any honorable way; because I should feel little and mean; because it would make me think less--of you, Anthony."

Her eyes met his steadily. She was as pale as the spectral lilacs, whose perfume floated about them. But her nervous fears were gone. She knew now that they would triumph--she and Anthony--that they were not to leave the heights.

When at last he spoke, it was in a moved voice. "If you were less than you are I should not love you so much. You know that, Diana?"

"Yes, I know----"

"In the years to come, what you have been to me will be my light--in the darkness----"

Unable to speak, she held out her hands to him. He took them, and bent his head.

With a little murmured cry she released herself, and flitted away into the engulfing darkness. The echoes of her swift descent came whispering up the stairs; in the distance a door was shut. The emptiness of the unfinished house seemed symbolic of the future which stretched before him.

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