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   Chapter 2 No.2

From the Housetops By George Barr McCutcheon Characters: 11222

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


His gaze swept the long, luxurious drawing-room, now filled with the shadows of late afternoon. A sigh that ended in an unvoiced imprecation escaped him. There was not an object in the room that did not possess for him a peculiar claim of intimacy. Here he had dreamed of paradise with Anne, and here he had built upon his hopes,-a staunch future that demanded little of the imagination. He could never forget this room and all that it had held for him.

But now, in that brief, swift glance, he found himself estimating the cost of all the treasures that it contained, and the price that was to be paid in order that they might not be threatened. These things represented greed. They had always represented greed. They had been saved out of the wreck that befell the Tresslyn fortunes when Anne was a young girl entering her teens, the wreck that destroyed Arthur Tresslyn and left his widow with barely enough to sustain herself and children through the years that intervened between the then and the now.

He recalled that after the wreck had been cleared up, Mrs. Tresslyn had a paltry twenty-five thousand a year on which to maintain the house that, fortuitously, had been in her name at the time of the smash. A paltry sum indeed! Barely enough to feed and clothe one hundred less exacting families for a year; families, however, with wheelbarrows instead of automobiles, and with children instead of servants.

Ten years had elapsed since the death of Arthur Tresslyn, and still the house in the east Seventies held itself above water by means of that meagre two thousand a month! These rare, almost priceless objects upon which he now gazed had weathered the storm, proof against the temptations that beset an owner embarrassed by their richness; they had maintained a smug relationship to harmony in spite of the jangling of discordant instruments, such as writs and attachments and the wails of insufferable creditors who made the usual mistake of thinking that a man's home is his castle and therefore an object of reprisal. The splendid porcelains, the incomparable tapestries and the small but exquisite paintings remained where they had been placed by the amiable but futile Arthur, and all the king's men and all the king's horses could not have removed them without Mrs. Tresslyn's sanction. The mistress of the house subsisted as best she could on the pitiful income from a sequestered half-million, and lived in splendour among objects that deluded even the richest and most arrogant of her friends into believing that nothing was more remote from her understanding than the word poverty, or the equally disgusting word thrift.

Here he had come to children's parties in days when he was a lad and Anne a child of twelve, and here he had always been a welcome visitor and playmate, even to the end of his college years. The motherless, fatherless grandson of old Templeton Thorpe was cherished among heirlooms that never had had a price put upon them. Of all the boys who came to the Tresslyn house, young Braden Thorpe was the heir with the most potent possibility. He did not know it then, but now he knew that on the occasion of his smashing a magnificent porcelain vase the forgiving kiss that Mrs. Tresslyn bestowed upon his flaming cheek was not due to pity but to farsightedness. Somehow he now felt that he could smash every fragile and inanimate thing in sight, and still escape the kiss.

Not the least regal and imposing object in the room was the woman who stood beside the fireplace, smiling as she always smiled when a situation was at its worst and she at her best. Her high-bred, aristocratic face was as insensitive to an inward softness as a chiseled block of marble is to the eye that gazes upon it in rapt admiration. She had trained herself to smile in the face of the disagreeable; she had acquired the art of tranquillity. This long anticipated interview with her daughter's cast-off, bewildered lover was inevitable. They had known that he would come, insistent. She had not kept him waiting. When he came to the house the day after his arrival from England, following close upon a cablegram sent the day after the news of Anne's defection had struck him like a thunderbolt, she was ready to receive him.

And now, quite as calmly and indifferently, she was ready to say good-bye to him forever,-to this man who until a fortnight before had considered himself, and rightly too, to be the affianced husband of her daughter. He meant nothing to her. Her world was complete without him. He possessed her daughter's love,-and all the love she would ever know perhaps,-but even that did not produce within her the slightest qualm. Doubtless Anne would go on loving him to the end of her days. It is the prerogative of women who do not marry for love; it is their right to love the men they do not marry provided they honour the men they do, and keep their skirts clear besides.

Mrs. Tresslyn felt, and honestly too, that her own assurances that Anne loved him would be quite as satisfactory as if Anne were to utter them herself. It all came to the same thing, and she had an idea that she could manage the situation more ably than her daughter.

And Mrs. Tresslyn was quite sure that it would come out all right in the end. She hadn't the remotest doubt that Anne could marry Braden later on, if she cared to do so, and if nothing better offered; so what was there to worry about? Things always shape themselves after the easiest possible fashion. It wasn't as if she was marrying a young man with money. Mrs. Tresslyn had seen things shape themselves befo

re. Moreover, she rather hated the thought of being a grandmother before she was fifty. And so it was really a pleasure to turn this possible son-in-law out of her house just at this time. It would be a very simple matter to open the door to him later on and invite him in.

She stood beside her hearth and watched him go with a calm and far from uneasy eye. He would come again to-morrow, perhaps,-but even at his worst he could not be a dangerous visitor. He was a gentleman. He was a bit distressed. Gentlemen are often put to the test, and they invariably remain gentlemen.

He stopped at the door. "Will you tell Anne that I'll be here to-morrow, Mrs. Tresslyn?"

"I shall tell her, of course," said Mrs. Tresslyn, and lifted her lorgnon.

He went out, filled to the throat with rage and resentment. His strong body was bent as if against a gale, and his hands were tightly clenched in his overcoat pockets. In his haste to get away from the house, he had fairly flung himself into the ulster that Rawson held for him, and the collar of his coat showed high above the collar of the greatcoat,-a most unusual lapse from orderliness on the part of this always careful dresser.

He was returning to his grandfather's house. Old Templeton Thorpe would be waiting there for him, and Mr. Thorpe's man would be standing outside the library door as was his practice when his master was within, and there would be a sly, patient smile on the servant's lips but not in his sombre eyes. He was returning to his grandfather's house because he had promised to come back and tell the old man how he had fared at the home of his betrothed. The old man had said to him earlier in the afternoon that he would know more about women than he'd ever known before by the time his interview was over, and had drily added that the world was full to overflowing of good women who had not married the men they loved,-principally, he was just enough to explain, because the men they loved preferred to marry other women.

Braden had left him seated in the library after a stormy half-hour; and as he rushed from the room, he found Mr. Thorpe's man standing in the hall outside the door, just as he always stood, waiting for orders with the sly, patient smile on his lips.

For sixty years Templeton Thorpe had lived in the house near Washington Square, and for thirty-two of them Wade had been within sound of his voice, no matter how softly he called. The master never rang a bell, night or day. He did not employ Wade to answer bells. The butler could do that, or the parlour-maid, if the former happened to be tipsier than usual. Wade always kept his head cocked a little to one side, in the attitude of one listening, and so long had he been at it that it is doubtful if he could have cocked it the other way without snapping something in his neck. That right ear of his was open for business twenty-four hours out of the day. The rest of his body may have slept as soundly as any man's, but his ear was always awake, on land or sea. It was his boast that he had never had a vacation.

Braden, after his long ride down Fifth Avenue on the stage, found Wade in the hall.

"Is my grandfather in the library, Wade?" he asked, surprised to find the man at the foot of the stairs, quite a distance from his accustomed post.

"He is, sir," said Wade. "He asked me to wait here until you arrived and then to go upstairs for a little while, sir. I fancy he has something to say to you in private." Which was a na?ve way of explaining that Mr. Thorpe did not want him to have his ear cocked in the hall during the conversation that was to be resumed after an advisable interval. Observing the strange pallor in the young man's usually ruddy face, he solicitously added: "Shall I get you a glass of-ahem!-spirits, sir? A snack of brandy is a handy thing to-"

"No, thank you, Wade. You forget that I am a doctor. I never take medicine," said Braden, forcing a smile.

"A very good idea, sir," said Wade.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Tresslyn had reported to Anne, in the cosy little boudoir at the top of the house in the Seventies.

"It is just as well that you insisted on me seeing him, dear," she said on entering the room. "He would have said things to you that you could not have forgiven. As it is, you have nothing to forgive, and you have saved yourself a good many tears. He-but, my dear, what's this? Have you been crying?"

Anne, tall and slender, stood with her back to the window, her exquisite face in the shadows. Even in the dim, colourless light of the waning day, she was lovely-lovely even with the wet cheeks and the drooped, whimpering lips.

"What did he say, mother?" she asked, her voice hushed and broken. "How did he look?" Her head was bent and she looked at her mother from beneath pain-contracted brows. "Was he angry? Was he desperate? Did-did he say that he-that he loved me?"

"He looked very well, he was angry, he was desperate and he said that he loved you," replied Mrs. Tresslyn, with the utmost composure. "So dry your eyes. He did just what was to have been expected of him, and just what you counted upon. He-"

"He honestly, truly said that he loved me?" cried the girl, lifting her head and drawing a deep breath.

"Yes,-truly."

Anne dried her eyes with a fresh bit of lace.

"Sit down, mother, and tell me all about it," she said, jerking a small chair around so that it faced the couch. Then she threw herself upon the latter and, reaching out with a slender foot, drew the chair closer. "Sit up close, and let's hear what my future grandson had to say."

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