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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter IX. ROSE-COLOR!
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter IX. ROSE-COLOR! Post by :azure Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :2038

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter IX. ROSE-COLOR!

BOOK ONE ON THE SHELF - CHAPTER IX. ROSE-COLOR!

Jean found the day stretching out ahead of her in a series of exciting events. At the breakfast table her father told her that Hilda would stay on General Drake's case, and that she had better have Emily Bridges up for a visit.

"I don't like to have you alone at night, if I am called away."

"It will be heavenly, Daddy, to have Emily--"

And how was he to know that there were other heavenly things to happen? She had resolved that if Derry came, she would tell her father afterwards. But he might not come, so what was the use of being premature?

She sallied down to the Toy Shop in high feather. "You are to stay with us, Emily."

"Oh, am I? How do you know that I can make it convenient?"

"But you will, darling."

Jean's state of mind was beatific. She painted Lovely Dreams with a touch of inspiration which resulted in a row of purple camels: "Midnight on the Desert," Jean called them.

"Oh, Emily," she said, "we must have them in the window on Christmas morning, with the Wise Men and the Star--"

Emily, glancing at the face above the blue apron, was struck by the radiance of it.

"Is it because Hilda is away?" she asked.

"Is what--?"

"Your--rapture."

Jean laughed. "It is because Hilda is away, and other things. But I can't tell you now."

Then for fear Emily might be hurt by her secrecy, she flew to kiss her and again call her "Darling."

At noon she put on her hat and ran home, or at least her heart ran, and when she reached the house she sought the kitchen.

"I am having company for tea, Ellen--at four. And I want Lady-bread-and-butter, and oh, Ellen, will you have time for little pound cakes?"

She knew of course that pound cakes were--_verboten_. She felt, however, that even Mr. Hoover might sanction a fatted calf in the face of this supreme event.

She planned that she would receive Derry in the small drawing room. It was an informal room which had been kept by her mother for intimate friends. There was a wide window which faced west, a davenport in deep rose velvet, some chairs to match, and there were always roses in an old blue bowl.

Jean knew the dress she was going to wear in this room--of blue to match the bowl, with silver lace, and a girdle of pink brocade.

Alone in her room with Polly-Ann to watch proceedings, she got out the lovely gown.

"Oh, I do want to be pretty, Polly-Ann," she said with much wistfulness.

Yet when she was all hooked and snapped into it, she surveyed herself with some dissatisfaction in the mirror.

"Why not?" she asked the mirror. "Why shouldn't I wear it?"

The mirror gave back a vision of beauty--but behind that vision in the depths of limitless space Jean's eyes discerned something which made her change her gown. Quite soberly she got herself into a little nun's frock of gray with collars and cuffs of transparent white, and above it all was the glory of her crinkled hair.

Neither then nor afterwards could she analyze her reasons for the change. Perhaps sub-consciously she was perceiving that this meeting with Derry Drake was to be a serious and stupendous occasion. Throughout the world the emotions of men and women were being quickened to a pace set by a mighty conflict. Never again would Jean McKenzie laugh or cry over little things. She would laugh and cry, of course, but back of it all would be that sense of the world's travail and tragedy, made personal by her own part in it.

Julia, the second maid, was instructed to show Mr. Drake into the little drawing room. Jean came down early with her knitting, and sat on the deep-rose Davenport. The curtains were not drawn. There was always the chance of a sunset view. Julia was to turn on the light when she brought in the tea.

There was the whir of a bell, the murmur of voices. Jean sat tense. Then as her caller entered, she got somewhat shakily on her feet.

But the man in the door was not Derry Drake!

In his intrusive and impertinent green, pinched-in as to waist, and puffed-out as to trousers, his cheeks red with the cold, his brown eyes bright with eagerness, Ralph Witherspoon stood on the threshold.

"Of all the good luck," he said, "to find you in."

She shook hands with him and sat down.

"I thought you had gone back to Bay Shore. You said yesterday you were going."

"I got my orders in the nick of time. We are to go to Key West. I am to join the others on the way down."

"How soon?"

He sat at the other end of the davenport. "In three days, and anything can happen in three days."

He moved closer. She had a sense of panic. Was he going to propose to her again, in this room which she had set aside so sacredly for Derry Drake?

"Won't you have some tea?" she asked, desperately. "I'll have Julia bring it in."

"I'd rather talk."

But she had it brought, and Julia, wheeling in the tea-cart, offered a moment's reprieve. And Ralph ate the Lady-bread-and-butter, and the little pound cakes with the nuts and white frosting which had been meant for Derry, and then he walked around the tea-cart and took her hand, and for the seventh time since he had met her he asked her to marry him.

"But I don't love you." She was almost in tears.

"You don't know what love is--I'll teach you."

"I don't want to be taught."

"You don't know what it means to be taught--"

Jean had a stifling sense as of some great green tree bending down to crush her. She put out her hand to push it away.

In the silence a bell whirred--.

Derry Drake, ushered in by Julia, saw the room in the rosy glow of the lamp. He saw Ralph Witherspoon towering insolently in his aviator's green. He saw Jean, blushing and perturbed. The scene struck cold against the heat of his anticipation.

He sat down in one of the rose-colored chairs, and Julia brought more tea for him, more Lady-bread-and-butter, more pound cakes with nuts and frosting.

Ralph was frankly curious. He was also frankly jealous. He was aware that Derry had met Jean for the first time at his mother's dinner dance. And Derry's millions were formidable. It did not occur to Ralph that Derry, without his millions, was formidable. Ralph's idea of a man's attractiveness for women was founded on his belief in their admiration of good looks, and their liking for the possession of, as he would himself have expressed it, "plenty of pep" and "go." From Ralph's point of view Derry Drake was not handsome, and he was utterly unaware that back of Derry's silver-blond slenderness and apparent languidness were banked fires which could more than match his own.

And there was this, too, of which he was unconscious, that Derry's millions meant nothing to Jean. Had he remained the shabby son of the shabby old man in the Toy Shop, her heart would still have followed him.

So, fatuously hopeful, Ralph stayed. He stayed until five, until half-past five. Until a quarter of six.

And he talked of the glories of war!

Derry grew restless. As he sat in the rose-colored chair, he fingered a tassel which caught back one of the curtains of the wide window. It was a silk tassel, and he pulled at one strand of it until it was flossy and frayed. He was unconscious of his work of destruction, unconscious that Jean's eyes, lifted now and then from her knitting, noted his fingers weaving in and out of the rosy strands.

Ralph talked on. With seeming modesty he spoke of the feats of other men, yet none the less it was Ralph they saw, poised like a bird at incredible heights, looping the loop, fearless, splendid--beating the air with strong wings.

Six o'clock, and at last Ralph rose. Even then he hesitated and hung back, as if he expected that Derry might go with him. But Derry, stiff and straight beside the rose-colored chair, bade him farewell!

And now Derry was alone with Jean!

They found themselves standing close together in front of the fire. The garment of coldness and of languor which had seemed to enshroud Derry had dropped from him. The smile which he gave Jean was like warm wine in her veins.

"Well--?"

"I asked you to come--to say--that I am,--sorry--," her voice breaking. "Daddy told me that he knew why--you couldn't fight--"

"I didn't intend that he should tell."

"He didn't," eagerly, "not your reasons. He said it was a--confidence, and he couldn't break his word. But he knew that you were brave. That the things the world is saying are all wrong. Oh, I ought to go down on my knees."

Her face was white, her eyes deep wells of tears.

"It is I," he said, very low, "who should be on my knees--do you know what it means to me to have you tell me this?"

"I wasn't sure that I ought to write. To some men I couldn't have written--"

His face lighted. "When your note came--I can't tell you what it meant to me. I shouldn't like to think of what this day would have been for me if you had not written. Everybody is calling me--a coward. You know that. You heard Witherspoon just now pitying me, not in words, but his manner."

"Oh, Ralph," how easily she disposed of him. "Ralph crows, like a--rooster."

They looked at each other and tried to laugh. But they were not laughing in their hearts.

He lifted her hand and kissed it--then he stood well away from her, anchoring himself again to the silken tassel. "Now that you know a part," he said, from that safe distance, "I'd like to tell you all of it, if I may."

As he talked her fingers were busy with her knitting, but there came moments when she laid it down and looked up at him with eyes that mirrored his own earnestness.

"It--it hasn't been easy," he said in conclusion, "but--but if you will be my friend, nothing will be hard."

She tried to speak--was shaken as if by a strong wind, and her knitting went up as a shield.

"My dear, you are crying," he said, and was on his knees beside her.

And now they were caught in the tide of that mighty wave which was sweeping the world!

When at last she steadied herself, he was again anchored to the rose-colored tassel.

"You--you must forgive me--but--it has been so good to talk it out--to some one--who cared. I had never dreamed until that night in the Toy Shop of anybody--like you. Of anybody so--adorable. When your note came this morning, I couldn't believe it. But now I know it is true. And that night of Cinderella you were so--heavenly."

It was a good thing that Miss Emily came in at that moment--for his eloquence was a burning flood, and Jean was swept up and on with it.

The entrance of Emily, strictly tailored and practical, gave them pause.

"You remember Mr. Drake, don't you, Emily?"

Emily did, of course. But she had not expected to see him here. She held out her hand. "I remember that he was coming back for more of your Lovely Dreams."

"I want all of her dreams," said Derry, and something in the way that he said it took Miss Emily's breath away. "Please don't sell them to anyone else. You have a wholesale order from me."

Miss Emily looked from one to the other. She was conscious of something which touched the stars--something which all her life she had missed, something which belongs to youth and ecstasy.

"Wholesale orders are not in my line," she said. "You can settle that with Jean."

She surveyed the tea-wagon. "I'm starved. And if I eat I shall spoil my dinner."

"I can ring for hot water, Emily, and there are more of the pound cakes."

"My dear, no. I must go upstairs and dress. Your father sent for my bag, and Julia says it is in my room."

She bade Derry a cheerful good-bye, and left them alone.

"I must go, too," said Derry, and took Jean's hand. He stood looking down at her. "May I come tomorrow?"

"Oh,--yes--"

"There's one thing that I should like more than anything, if we could go to church together--to be thankful that--that we've found each other--"

Tears in the shining eyes!

"Why are you crying?"

"Because it is so--sweet."

"Then you'll go?"

"I'd love it."

He dropped her hand and got away. She was little and young, so divinely innocent. He felt that he must not take unfair advantage of that mood of exaltation.

He drove straight downtown and ordered flowers for her. Remembering the nun's dress, he sent violets in a gray basket, with a knot on the handle of heavenly blue.

The flowers came while Jean was at dinner. Emily was in Hilda's place, a quiet contrast in her slenderness and modest black to Hilda's opulence. Dr. McKenzie had not had time to dress.

"I am so busy, Emily."

"But you love the busy-ness, don't you? I can't imagine you without the hours crammed full."

"Just now I wish that I could push it away as Richards pushed it--"

Jean looked up. "But Dr. Richards went to France, Daddy."

"I envy him."

"Oh, do you--?" Then her flowers came, and she forgot everything else.

The Doctor whistled as Julia set the basket in front of Jean. "Ralph is generous."

Jean had opened the attached envelope and was reading a card. A wave of self-conscious color swept over her cheeks. "Ralph didn't send them. It--it was Derry Drake."

"Drake? How did that happen?"

"He was here this afternoon for tea, and Ralph, and Emily--only Emily was late, and the tea was cold--"

"So you've made up?"

"We didn't have to make up much, Daddy, did we?" mendaciously.

Miss Emily came to the rescue. "He seems very nice."

"Splendid fellow. But I am not sure that I want him sending flowers to my daughter. I don't want anyone sending flowers to her."

Miss Emily took him up sharply. "That's your selfishness. Life has always been a garden where you have wandered at will. And now you want to shut the gate of that garden against your daughter."

"Well, there are flowers that I shouldn't care to have her pluck."

"Don't you know her well enough to understand that she'll pluck only the little lovely blooms?"

His eyes rested on Jean's absorbed face. "Yes, thank God. And thank you, too, for saying it, Emily."

After dinner they sat in the library. Doctor McKenzie on one side of the fire with his cigar, Emily on the other side with her knitting. Jean between them in a low chair, a knot of Derry's violets fragrant against the gray of her gown, her fingers idle.

"Why aren't you knitting?" the Doctor asked.

"I don't have to set a good example to Emily."

"And you do to Hilda?" He threw back his head and laughed.

"You needn't laugh. Isn't it comfy with Emily?"

"It is." He glanced at the slender black figure. He was still feeling the fineness of the thing she had said about Jean. "But when she is here I am jealous."

"Oh, Daddy."

"And I am never jealous of Hilda. If you had Emily all the time you'd love her better than you do me."

He chuckled at their hot eyes. "If you are teasing," Jean told him, "I'll forgive you. But Emily won't, will you, Emily?"

"No." Emily's voice was gay, and he liked the color in her cheeks. "He doesn't deserve to be forgiven. Some day he is going to be devoured by a green-eyed monster, like a bad little boy in a Sunday School story."

Her needles clicked, and her eyes sparkled. There was no doubt that there was a sprightliness about Emily that was stimulating.

"But one's only daughter, Emily. Isn't jealousy pardonable?"

"Not in you."

"Why not?"

"Well," with obvious reluctance, "you're too big for it."

"Oh," he was more pleased than he was willing to admit, "did you hear that, Jean?"

But Jean, having drifted away from them, came back with, "I am going to church with him tomorrow."

"Him? Whom?"

"Derry Drake, Daddy, and may I bring him home to dinner?"

"Do you think a man like that goes begging for invitations? He has probably been asked to a dozen places to eat his turkey."

"He can't eat it at a dozen places, Daddy. And anyhow I should like to ask him. I--I think he is lonely--"

"A man with millions is never lonely."

She did not attempt to argue. She felt that her father could not possibly grasp the truth about Derry Drake. Her own understanding of his need had been a blinding, whirling revelation. He had said, "I wanted some one--who cared--." Not for a moment since then had the world been real to her. She had seemed in the center of a golden-lighted sphere, where Derry's voice spoke to her, where Derry's smile warmed her, where Derry, a silver-crested knight, knelt at her feet.

Julia came in to say that Miss Jean was wanted at the telephone.

Miraculously Derry's voice came over the wire. Was she going to the dance at the Willard? The one for the benefit of the Eye and Ear Hospital? The President and his wife would be there--the only ball they had attended this season--everybody would be there. Could he come for Jean and her father? And he'd bring Drusilla and Marion Gray. She knew Drusilla?

Jean on tiptoe. Oh, yes. But she was not sure about her father.

"But you--you--?"

"I'll ask."

She flew on winged feet and explained excitedly.

"Tonight? _Tonight_, Jean?"

"Yes, Daddy."

"But what time is it?"

"Only ten. He'll come at eleven--"

"But you can't leave Emily alone, dear."

"Emily won't mind--darling--will you, Emily?"

"Of course not. I am often alone."

It was said quietly, without bitterness, but Dr. McKenzie was quite suddenly and unreasonably moved by the thought of all that Emily had missed. He felt it utterly unfair that she should sit alone by an empty hearth while he and Jean frivolled. He had never thought of Hilda by an empty hearth--and she had been often alone--but there was this which made the difference, he would not have asked Hilda to meet his daughter's friends. She had her place in his household, but it was not the place which Emily filled.

Yet he missed her. He missed her blond picturesqueness at the dinner table, her trim whiteness as she served him in his office.

He came back to the question of Emily. "You can tell Drake we will go, if Emily can accompany us."

"But, Doctor, I'd rather not."

"Why not?"

"I'm not included in the invitation."

"Don't be self-conscious."

"And I haven't anything to wear."

"You never looked better than you do at this moment. And Jean can get you that scarf of her mother's with the jet and spangles."

"The peacocky one--oh, yes, Daddy." Jean danced back to the telephone.

Derry was delighted to include Miss Bridges. "Bring a dozen if you wish."

"I don't want a dozen. I want just Daddy and Emily."

"And me?"

"Of course--silly--"

Laughter singing along the wire. "May I come now?"

"I have to change my dress."

"In an hour, then?"

"Yes."

"I can't really believe that we are going together!"

"Together--"

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