The gate was opened by Mr. Wake, who had just come back from town, and was as wet as we were.
When Mr. Wake spoke he said, “You haven’t changed,” and he did it between two gulps and after a deep breath.
Miss Sheila, who covered her feelings more easily than Mr. Wake, said “Nonsense, I have gray hair, and wrinkles.”
“No,” Mr. Wake shook his head. “No,” he said again.
She smiled at him, and her lips quivered.
“You,” she said, “can still say pretty things, can’t you?”
“To you, Sheila,” he answered, and then I thought that Sam and I ought to move on. I said so in an aside to Sam, who was acting as if he were sitting in an aisle seat and twisting his program into funny shapes while he waited in great suspense for the hero to get the girl just before the drop of the last curtain. I think men are much too natural at times, and that was one of them.
After I had touched Sam’s arm, and frowned at him, and said, “Come on,” in a sibilant whisper, we went up to the house, and into the big, living hall and stood there to drain.
“Gosh,” said Sam, after I had taken off my hat and was wiping poppy stains from my face - my hat was ruined; the colors of my cheap flowers had run from the rain. “Gosh, wasn’t that simply great! My gosh, did you see his face?”
“Naturally,” I said, because I was so worked up and excited that it made me feel snappish.
“Well, you needn’t be cutting,” said Sam as he tiptoed over to a window from which he could see Miss Sheila and Mr. Wake, who were about a block away down by the garden gate. “My soul,” he commented, after he had looked out, “I’ll say that’s quick work! Didn’t know he had it in him. Great hat!”
“You shouldn’t spy on them, it isn’t fair,” I stated as I joined him. But we did look for a moment more, at those two people who stood outdoors, under the savage assaults of that raging storm, but who felt, I’m certain, as if they were favored by the happiest skies of a clear June day.
“Come on, Sam,” I ordered and turned.
“Gosh ding it,” he asked as he followed me (“Gosh ding it” is his most intense expression.), “wasn’t it wonderful?”
“Um hum,” I murmured.
“Are you soaked, dear?”
“A little damp,” I admitted.
“I’ll get Maria to make us some tea,” said Sam, “and I’ll take you up to Mr. Wake’s room, and you can shed that once-perky, now depressed frock and put on one of his dressing gowns. And then come down, and we’ll toast you up before the fire I make while you change.”
“All right,” I agreed.
“This way, dear,” he said then, and I went with him up a twisting stairs that had a wrought-iron balustrade, over which was growing a vine that had its feet in a brick colored jardiniere. It was a very, very pretty house, and more than that. It was built for comfort too. There were soft, deep low chairs all around, and ash trays on tiny tables, and magazines, and books - hundreds of books in every room – I kept thinking of how Miss Sheila would like it.
After I had taken off my dress, and hung it over the only chair in the room that wouldn’t be hurt by moisture, I put on the dark green dressing gown that Sam had laid out for me, and went downstairs again, holding the robe up around me, for of course it was miles long for me, and it made me go carefully for fear I would trip.
Sam had two chairs before the big fireplace, and in this a few sticks were burning. When he saw me, he laughed, and I laughed too, and then we settled. Maria came in with a tray that had on it an orange china tea set, that looked very pretty on that dull, gray day, and there were yellow flowers tucked into each napkin, and she had orange cake, and mayonnaise and egg sandwiches to eat with our tea, and so the color scheme was quite perfect.
After I had eaten three sandwiches and was about to begin on another – I wasn’t very hungry, it hadn’t been long since lunch - I spoke. “Sam,” I said, “don’t you think someone ought to tell them it’s raining?”
“Not by a good deal!” he answered, as he poured himself some fresh tea. “They’ll get on to it sometime, all by themselves.”
“Miss Sheila’s been sick,” I added. I was a little bit worried, but Sam answered that he thought the soaking wouldn’t hurt her, and it didn’t, and he added the statement that he didn’t believe Mr. Wake would be grateful for any interruption just then.
Then we were quiet a minute as we watched the spluttery little fire leap and die down, and then leap all over again. I twisted my new ring as I sat there, for it seemed strange, as well as nice, to wear it.
“Think,” I said, I was referring to Miss Sheila and Mr. Wake, “how long it can last.”
Sam moved his chair closer.
“Yes,” he said, in an undertone, “think of it.”
Then one of the long, French windows opened, and the wettest person I have ever seen came in, and she was followed by another one.
“Tea,” said Miss Sheila, “how very nice,” and her voice shook on every single word.
And then Mr. Wake said, “Ah, yes, tea!” just as if he had recently discovered the plant and the use for it.
“Have some,” I said, “and Miss Sheila, you’d better go put on one of Mr. Wake’s dressing gowns; he has a lavender one that would be beautiful on you.”
“What wouldn’t?” asked Mr. Wake.
“If you think she’s pretty now,” I said, “You just wait until she has dried off!”
“Dear, foolish child,” murmured Miss Sheila as she took off her entirely limp hat and ran her fingers through her hair which was kinking up in funny little curls all over her head.
Then she sat down on a lounge that stood to one side of the fire, and Mr. Wake sat down by her, and kept looking at her, and looking at her, and looking at her.
“Children,” said Miss Sheila, “I have a long story for you. Once upon a time there were two foolish young people who were proud and stubborn, and who trusted the mails of Uncle Sam. And they quarreled badly; and the man wrote but the young lady never got the letter, and the young lady, after long months that were filled with chastening and pride-shattering heartbreak, wrote the young man, but, ah, me, he had changed his name.”
“Just as you are going to change yours,” said Mr. Wake, and Miss Sheila laughed and nodded.
“And so,” said Miss Sheila, “the fates kept them apart, and her hair turned gray.”
“And he grew a tummy,” I put in, and Miss Sheila laughed again.
“And they were both lonely,” said Mr. Wake, “so miserably lonely; you were, Sheila?”
And she said, “Oh, Terry, I…” and then she remembered Sam and me, and stopped.
“Well?” I questioned.
“Well,” said Miss Sheila, “one fine day the lonely lady who had once been a happy girl grew so very lonely that she could not stand still, and so she met two nice children at a convent gate, and she said, ‘Let’s walk,’ and they looked at each other and smiled and the way they smiled made her more lonely than ever, and they said ‘Yes,’ and so they all started down a hill.”
“And then,” said Mr. Wake, “an old chap who had been down to Florence, and had gotten his favorite gray suit so wet that he didn’t think that it would ever come back to shape, heard the tinkle of the bell of his gate and said, ‘The devil,’ because he was halfway up to the house and everything had tried him that day anyway. But he turned back, and he opened the gate, and he found - heaven!”
Then I knew that Sam and I should move!
“Sam,” I said, “may I see the picture that you’re working on now?”
“Yes,” Sam answered, and we stood up.
It made us both very happy to leave those two dear people whom we loved so well, and who had been lonely, there together.
Post a Comment