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Grace Livingston Hill
THE GOLD SHOE
First published in 1930
Copyright © 2018 Classica Libris
Anastasia Endicott shivered and drew her velvet evening wrap closer around her shoulders as she sat forward in the Pullman chair and tried to look through the snow-blotched window at her side.
The train seemed to be crawling, like a baffled invalid that gained a few inches and then stopped to cough. It had been going on that way for an hour and did not seem to be getting anywhere. It was outrageous, such service! A ride of only thirty-five miles taking all this time! What would her friends think of her? They would be waiting in their car at the station, and in such a storm!
But surely the train must be almost there!
She glanced down anxiously at the little trifle of platinum and diamonds on her wrist that stood for a watch and then out the baffling window again; but no friendly light outside illumined the blanket of snow that covered the glass, and she shivered again.
How cold it was!
She leaned down and touched the heat pipes that ran along under the window and drew back with a shudder. They were cold as stone. The heat had gone out! How unpardonable of the railroad company to let a thing like that happen on such a cold, stormy night!
She leaned forward and summoned the official who was passing rapidly through the car, speaking in a tone of accusation, as if the fault belonged to him personally.
“Yes, miss,” he said, “fire’s out. She’s broke. We’re trying to patch her up, but we can’t make much headway. Something wrong with her connections. This ain’t the only car is cold, miss; the whole train is in the same fix.”
She felt the lack of sympathy in his cold blue eyes as he started on again. She resented his suggestion that others were suffering. What had that to do with her?
“When are we going to get to Stonington?” she asked sharply. “We’ve been an hour and a quarter already from the city and this train is scheduled to do it in fifty-five minutes.”
“Not on a night like this, miss,” said the brakeman. “Schedules ain’t in it. The snowplow is ahead of us, and it’s stuck in a drift high as a house. We got twelve men out there shoveling an’ the wind blowin’ forty knots a minute.”
“But I’m going to a dance!” said the girl stupidly. “I shall be late!” Her voice was almost impatient. “And I’m freezing!” she added and shivered again visibly.
The brakeman grinned.
“Better have yer dance in here then an’ keep warm!” he advised. “There’s a man in the next car goin’ to his dyin’ child!” His tone was significant, and he passed out of the car and slammed the door.
She was alone in the parlor car. The only other occupant had gone out to help with the shoveling. She drew her velvets closer and shuddered back into the plush of the chair, drawing her feet up and tucking one under her to get it warm. Then she remembered her delicate dance frock and put it quickly down again.
Dying child! What did he want to tell her that for? How horrid of him when he knew she was going to a dance. A dance and a dying child did not fit together.
Oh, how cold it was! Why had she not brought her fur coat? But she had counted on driving back in the Lymans’ limousine with her friend Adrienne, and there were always plenty of fur blankets in the Lymans’ car. She had not dreamed of being cold. She had come to the station in a taxi from her overheated home; there had been heat in the taxi. The parlor car was always warm enough in her experience, and she felt ill-used that it had suddenly failed her. She was expecting to be met at her journey’s end by a heated limousine and conveyed to the country house some five miles from the station, where the dance was to be held. There really had been no need for a fur coat, for her wrap was lined with rich silk and warmly interlined.
She glanced helplessly around her. She had no hand baggage except a delicate beaded bag containing her compact, handkerchief, and gloves.
She had arrived home from a trip to Washington only that afternoon, to find awaiting her this invitation to a dance at a friend’s magnificent country estate; had telephoned her friend Adrienne Lyman, who was also an invited guest, and arranged to return with her and her friends; had dressed hurriedly, been driven to this train just in time, and here she was! Shivering! Snow banks on every side!
It began to occur to her that the return trip might not be so easy even in Adrienne’s big limousine. Why, if a big iron train on a railroad track found it difficult going, how could an automobile manage? But then, railroads were different, of course. Railroads had drifts on them. They went out in the country through out-of-the-way places where there were winds that blew a lot and made very little snow seem much. Of course, a track got clogged up sooner than just a road where cars were going back and forth all the time. And the road between Stonington and the city was a main highway, with a great deal of traffic. Of course there wouldn’t be any trouble in getting home.
She took her delicate handkerchief and mopped away at the windowpane, breathing on the glass, trying to melt the clogging feathers and see through to the storm, but everything seemed a blot of impenetrable whiteness.
She settled back disconsolately into her cold chair and felt more like crying than she had since she was a child and broke her doll. To think that she, Tasha Endicott, should be caught in a fix like this! And then, just as she was in despair, the brakeman came back through the car, slamming the door after him and stamping off snow from his feet. He gave her a familiar grin as he passed her and lurched on out at the other end, slamming that door, too. She felt a helpless fury rise within her. The impertinence! For a man like that to presume to grin at her in that leering, triumphant way! He ought to be reported and fired. She would tell her father about it. He should be fired!
She got up and tried to walk up and down the aisle, stamping her gold-shoed feet impatiently, trying to bring back life into them. It would be awful if she got her feet frostbitten. How could she dance? It was very painful to have frostbitten feet!
Then, without warning, the train gave a great lurch, which sent her into a little rustling heap of rose color and gold in the aisle.
Angry and disheveled, she rose quickly, for a sudden draft of air told her that someone had opened the door, and looking anxiously, she saw the grinning brakeman with a lantern in his hand, standing in the open door, a twinkle of merriment in his eyes.
More furious than ever, she tried to be seated with dignity, but just at that instant the train gave another tremendous lurch that thrust her into her chair in a hurry and completely robbed the act of all dignity. In fact, one gold shoe flew off in the aisle, and she had to catch herself with inglorious haste to keep from sliding back onto the floor again.
She did not look up at the brakeman again, but when she had rescued and donned her shoe, she felt that the door was closed and she was alone. Also, she realized that the train was moving once more, slowly, creakingly, but steadily with a pause now and then and a lurch, but moving.
They had gone perhaps a hundred yards or more when the train slowed down and stopped with something of its old decision, and the door opened and the brakeman called out: “Stonington! Stoooooo-ning-toooon! All out for Stonington!”
Tasha rose hastily, excitedly, and made her shaky way down the aisle. She seemed somehow weak in the knees and trembling. Perhaps it was the fall, or her anger. She came to the platform, and the obnoxious brakeman with his lantern stood on the bottom step looking as if he meant to assist her.
She stiffened and threw her shoulders back.
“Is this really Stonington?” she asked sharply, trying to peer into the blear of the blanket whiteness that constituted the air. It had not been snowing like this in town when she started. At least she had not noticed that it was so thick.
“Yep!” answered the brakeman. “Jump, an’ I’ll put you over where the snow ain’t so deep.”
“Where is the porter?” she asked haughtily.
“Out shovelin’!” said the brakeman. “Better jump quick ef you wanta git off. We ain’t stoppin’ long!”
Tasha advanced to the steps and looked down into the sea of whiteness, then drew back again.
“Why, this is outrageous!” she said crisply. “The railroad company has no right to stop in a place like this. Where is the platform? I’d rather go to the other end of the car.”
“Say, miss, ef you don’t git off here, you git carried to Elkins station. We’re only ’commodation this far, and then we’re ’xpress. You sure you wanta git off at Stonington?”
“I certainly do!” she said frigidly. “But I want you to go and get the porter for me!”
A snort from the engine and a slight lurch of the train broke in on the conversation.
“Nothin’ doin’!” said the brakeman. “Either you git off ur you don’t!”
He gave a quick glance around, peering beyond the station into the white darkness.
“Say, miss, is anyone meeting you? Because this station is closed for the night.”
“There certainly is someone meeting me,” said Tasha, still haughtily.
The brakeman cast another uncertain glance around and saw a tiny spark of light wavering toward them several yards away.
“Oh, all right then!” he said with a relieved tone. “Here you go! We ain’t got any more time for fooling!” And to her horror he caught her in his burly arm like a bundle of baggage and swung her across the steps and far out over the billows of whiteness, setting her down under what seemed like a great shadow, in comparative shelter, where only a few of the stinging snowflakes cut into her unprotected face and bit her lips and her eyes. And then he was gone, clinging to the lower step of the car, his lantern swinging out into the white storm, signaling to some force in the impenetrable whiteness beyond. She saw him moving slowly away from her, leaving her in sudden, awful loneliness.
It had all happened so quickly that she had not realized. The chill of the snow on her silken ankles seemed to enfold her as if she were in the grasp of a new and awful power. She realized that she was standing almost knee deep in snow, and she tried to take a step out of it, but nowhere was there a shallower place to put her foot.
In new horror she cried out and tried to run toward the train that was slipping past her now with its lit windows; the very window where her breath a few minutes before had melted a black circle on the pane was leering mockingly down on her now like a bright eye, and her soul suddenly knew how safe and warm she had been inside and how fearfully perilous was her present position. She cried again and waved her arms toward the brakeman, whose lantern was giving its final swing as he jerked himself in out of the storm, but her voice was flung back upon the blanket stillness and frightened her even more.
The tears were running down her cheeks and freezing as they fell, but she did not know it. She was stung to sudden panic and began to run after the train, but she fell in the first attempt and lay there helpless for a moment, her bare hands plunging elbow deep into the heavy snow, her face even going down into its smothering chill. Snow inside her flimsy, inadequate garments; snow around her throat like icy fingers; snow in her eyes and her mouth and her hair; smothering, icy snow!
One of her little gold shoes, the loose one that had come off before, came off again and was lost in the whiteness. The snow bit into the little gold silk foot that felt in vain for its covering.
Tasha cried aloud and knew not what she said as she sobbed, but it seemed to come to her dimly through it all that there was no one by to help her and she must help herself. She had never had to help herself in any trying situation before, but now she must. There had always been servants or persons whose business it was to care for her close at hand in any predicament before. Now she was alone! It was somebody’s fault, of course, that she was, and they should suffer for it when she got home; but now she must take care of herself. Home! Would she ever be home again? A fear gripped her! Snow killed people sometimes. They froze to death in it. Even now she could feel it would be easier to lie still and sink, sink, and forget it all. She was so cold! Oh, how her feet hurt! She wouldn’t be able to dance tonight! But that didn’t matter! Oh, why didn’t the chauffeur come after her? He must have seen her get off. Was he waiting around the other side of the station?
She looked up, and the dark shadow of a snow-draped building loomed above her. She must get up and find that shoe. She must get around to the other side of the station quickly before the chauffeur decided she hadn’t come and went home without her. She must! She must!
She called as she struggled to her feet, “Hello! Hello! I’m here! Wait! Wait! I’m coming!” but the wind caught her voice and flung it back into her own ears, and the snow flung a blanket over the echo, too, so that she knew she had not been heard.
At last she got to her feet again, her poor numb feet, and then with a mighty resolve, she clutched around in the snow with her bare hands until she came upon the little shoe. She drew it to her breast and hugged it with her bead purse, as if it were something precious, and turned, stumbling, cautious, moving slowly, with difficulty, toward the station, until she almost fell against the stone wall and her feet came unexpectedly upon shallower snow. She stood for an instant to get her breath, leaning against the wall and finding that the wind here did not swoop and search her quite so violently as out by the tracks. Perhaps if she could get around to the other side it might be even more sheltered. Oh, why did they close stations in places like this? If she could only get inside the door!
But when she reached the other side of the building and came unexpectedly in contact with a latch, she found it would not open. She stood within the doorway, braced against it, one little gold shoe and her bead bag still pressed against her breast, one little, icy foot drawn up against her cold, cold knee. The other icy foot was trying to balance on a tiny gold spike of a heel, and one slender arm was frantically clutching the big bronze knob of the closed the door for support as she tried to peer into the blank whiteness beyond.
But nowhere could she see a sign of a car! It was all a level whiteness, earth and air and sky, all full of whirling whiteness, stinging and snatching and biting at her, and how long could she hold out?
Suddenly, out of the terrible white darkness before her, a light danced, glared, and danced away again, like a new menace. Was it the headlight of a car? It did not seem large enough for that, and yet as she looked, there it was again, still larger, glaring into her eyes like some beast of prey. She shook off the new fear that took hold of her. Of course, it was the car that was to have come for her, and she must make them know where she was.
She lifted up her voice and shouted. “Here! Here! Here I am!”
The wind flung her words down her throat. They could not get by the blanket that hung between her and all humankind. It was silly! It was nightmarish! She must rouse herself and make them hear or they would go away again and leave her here all night. She didn’t doubt she was in the first stages of freezing, or else why could she not get her words across to that stupid chauffeur? She must!
Down went the little, cold, gold chiffon-stockinged foot into the feathery snow, almost comforted from the bitter cold above, and she caught her breath and called again. “Heee-rrr!”
But she stopped suddenly as a tall, dark figure loomed above her and one bright eye stared into her face, a large, burning eye that seemed to be looking down into her very soul.
Why, what’s all this?” said a big voice just above her. It wasn’t the brakeman come back—or was it? A big gust of wind came hurricaning around the corner of the station and filled her mouth and her eyes with stifling flakes, and she was almost choked. Then the hurricane and the snow seemed suddenly shut out. It grew more luminous around her, and the big voice spoke through the storm over her head. “Are you waiting for the train? How ever did you get here? It’s outrageous to close the station on a night like this!”
She was aware of a pair of kindly eyes shrouded in snow; busy white eyebrows; cheeks plastered with flakes; eyelashes, too, fringed white. The rest was covered with a woolen scarf bound firmly around head and neck. But the sight of another human being suddenly broke her down. Even if it had been the impertinent brakeman she couldn’t have helped it.
“Oh, I’m soooo-ccc-ooo-llldddd!” she chattered, more tears flowing over the icicles on her face. “I can’t find the ca-ca-ca-rrrr-r,” she babbled feebly.
“What car?” asked the apparition, glancing keenly around the white distance.
“The Framstead c-c-arrrr,” answered Tasha, trying to keep her teeth from chattering. “They promised to be here when the train came in!” There was a wail in the end of her words.
“Framstead!” said the man in a startled tone. “They can’t get down from Framstead’s tonight! The bridge is down and the other road is impassable! It is drifted twelve feet at least!”
“Oh! What shall I do-o-o-o-oo!” cried Tasha in terror. “I’m freezing! My feet are dead now. I ca-ca-can’t feel them anymore at all. How l-l-l-long does it t-t-t-ake to fr-f-f-reeze?”
“You poor kid!” said the man, stooping to lift her in his snowy arms and feeling with one hand for her feet. “You poor little kid! No wonder! Why—you have only one shoe! Well that settles it! We’ll have to get inside here somehow at once. Just wait a minute and I’ll get this door open.”
He set her down again in the snow, but she was not conscious of feeling any colder. It seemed that she was numb all over except for the sharp point of hurt where the cold was still aching and stinging.
She felt as if she had come to the end of life in a terrible way. She gave a pitiful thought back to the good times that had been hers only a few short hours before and wondered that her butterfly existence had been so short. But it didn’t seem to matter anymore; the cold was so terrible, as if it had her by the throat and was putting her out like a candle flame being snuffed.
She heard a crash of glass in the dark and then saw the imp of light go flashing again, and presently she was picked up and carried inside the little box of a station.
She felt the cessation of the storm and the dry, warm air of a room that had at least recently known fire, and then she was put down in the darkness on a wooden seat.
“Now,” said the man, as he seemed to be moving around a few feet from her, “we’ve got to get you warm first. Whoever let you out on a night like this with so few clothes on?”
Tasha giggled hysterically. She had forgotten her haughtiness. In this warm darkness with the roar of the storm shut away, she could no longer hold her pride.
“Haven’t you any baggage with you?” asked the man’s voice. He seemed to be shaking some heavy garment on the other side of the room. A spatter of snow reached viciously and hit her cheek. The room was a very small one.
“No,” she said in answer to his question. “No,” almost stupidly, “I am going to a dance!”
“Oh!” said the man almost shortly. “Some dance!”
Then he came over to where she was sitting in the dark and almost roughly lifted her to wrap a big rough garment around her. It must be his overcoat, she thought to herself and tried to protest.
“You’ll nnnn-eee-ddd it!” she chattered.
“Not as much as you do!” he said shortly. “Now, what can we do about these feet?”
“They are dead!” she said and shivered in the roughness of the overcoat. “It won’t matter.”
The man stepped out the door and brought in a bag. He set it down on the floor and flashed the light into it, searching for something. She watched him apathetically. The snow had melted from his features now, though they were still well swathed in a brown, woolen scarf.
“Not entirely dead yet,” he answered as he laid the flashlight down on the floor and came toward her with something dark in his hand. He reached for her bare foot and began to rub it, finally tearing away the little rag of a gold silk-chiffon stocking and chafing the foot with his big warm hands from which he had taken the heavy woolen mittens that now lay on the floor beside the flashlight.
She watched him as if it were a sort of movie in which she had no part, but most surprisingly the foot began to feel alive again and to prickle under the chafing. And when he had it quite dry and warm again he drew on a long, thick woolen sock that came well up to her little, cold knee.
“My mother insisted on my taking these golf socks with me tonight,” he meditated, “and now I’m glad I brought them.”
Tasha did not say anything. She was wondering how she would look going through life with only one foot. One foot had come alive but the other was stone dead. And she was so cold all over in spite of the big overcoat that she felt as if she were made of ice with a hot, hot fire inside of it.
“Now,” said the man, “that’s better. Do you begin to feel a little more comfortable?” And he began his ministrations toward the other foot.
She did not see the look on his face as he unbuttoned and laid down the other little gold shoe, a mixture of awe and contempt upon him. He went on silently chafing the cold, little foot until it, too, responded to treatment and came alive.
“Now,” he said, “I suppose you’d like me to telephone the Framsteads. They’ll be wondering what has become of you. We’ll see whether I can pick the lock of the inner office and get at the telephone. What name shall I say?”
“Endicott,” said Tasha stupidly, “Miss Endicott.” Somehow the dance no longer seemed real. She was getting a little warm again in spots and longed only to get somewhere and lie down to rest. She felt as if she had been battling against wild beasts.
There was a sound of some little metal instrument trying to force a lock. An interval of silence and the dancing flashlight, more metal grinding against resisting locks, then the shudder of a thick door against a big, forceful shoulder. Presently the man returned to her.
“Well, it’s no use. I think there is a bolt or bar to that door. Anyhow, I can’t budge it. I suppose they have to be extra careful, for they keep a safe in there, I think, and it is rather lonely around here.”
“Oh, what shall I do? Shall I have to stay in this awful place all night? Are you going away?” she asked in sudden fright.
“No, you can’t stay here,” he said decidedly. “I’ll have to take you home to Mother. There’s no other house nearer where you could stay. I’ll have time to take you back before my train gets here.” He turned the flashlight on his wristwatch now, and she could see his face studying the dial anxiously; then he lifted his wrist and listened.
“What train did you come on?” he asked suddenly. “Did you come up from the city?”
“Yes, on the six-five. But my train was late. We just got in. I had been here only a few minutes when you came, though it seemed like hours it was so cold.”
She shuddered at the memory and realized that a slight sense of warmth was really stealing over her.
“Why?” she asked suddenly. “Is there a train back now? Oh, are you going to the city? I must go, too. I can’t stay here alone, since there is no way to get to the Framstead’s.”
“No,” he said gravely. “I’m not going to the city; I’m going up the road about fifty miles where I’m supposed to preach tomorrow. There is no train back to the city that stops at this station tonight. The only down train is an express, and you have to go five miles up the road to get it. But I was thinking. If your train was as late as that, the next train will be still later. I shall have plenty of time to get back, but we can’t lose a minute talking about it. I’ll take you to Mother, but you’ll have to do just as I say and be quick about it!”
Tasha had no time to resent this dictatorial speech, for he came over, picked her up summarily, and slung her over his shoulder as if she had been a bag of meal.
“Excuse me,” he said as she gasped. “It isn’t very pleasant, but it’s the only way, and I simply must get that train.”
She tried to struggle, to protest, to say she could not let him take so much trouble, but he strode to the door and was out before she had finished a sentence.
“Your bag!” she called. “Stop! You must not leave your bag!”
“It’s all right till I get back!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Lie still, can’t you, and put your arm around my neck, that way. Now, keep your face down and you won’t get the worst of the blast.”
He plunged off the platform and wallowed for a moment until he found the solid path, dancing the flashlight ahead of him weirdly through the storm.
The girl gasped and hid her face on the broad shoulder that held her. The touch of the rough wool made her conscious that she was wearing this man’s overcoat and that he was unprotected himself. She tried to say something about this, but her words were flung back into the soft, plush cold of the storm and caught away into space. She made a feeble effort to reach the top button of the coat and show him that she wished to take it off, but he shouted back, “Lie still, can’t you?” and struggled on.
And it was a struggle, she could see. Slender though she was and lightly clothed, yet wrapped in that heavy overcoat, she made a burden that was by no means easily carried through such going.
As her eyes became accustomed to the strange white darkness, she could peer out occasionally and catch a glimpse of the depth of the drifts through which he had to wade. Up to his knees, above his knees sometimes.
Once when he almost lost his footing and very nearly went down with her, she saw he had to lift her high above his head to keep her above the snow.
And the way seemed interminable.
He had said it was the nearest house, but how far away it seemed! Occasionally she thought of his train and thought she heard the roar of its coming. But the darkness kept on being thick and white and impenetrable, and the little firefly of light danced on and made no impression except to illumine a step at a time.
It strangely did not enter her head to be afraid, even though she could not see the man who was carrying her, had never really got a view of his face; yet she knew she could trust him. It occurred to her that perhaps she was being kidnapped. Perhaps he might have seen the flash of her jewels at her throat and wrist. But she dismissed that as foolish. If he had wanted her jewels it would have been easy to overpower her and take them, even to have killed her. There was no one by to see, and the snow would have covered all tracks by morning. No, she was strangely at peace, almost even interested, as she hung there over his shoulder, her arms clasped around his neck, trying to help all she could in the struggle he was having to take her to safety and warmth.
She was by no means warm even now, for the wind swooped around and roared down the neck of the overcoat, and even the thick golf socks seemed flimsy. But the feeling of the strength that bore her helped her to bear the deadly cold that swirled all around her and chilled her to the heart; and when it grew too awful she could hide her face entirely and breathe through the thick, rough wool of his coat, to gain a moment’s respite from the agony of breathing in the cold.
It seemed a space set apart in her lifetime never to be forgotten, that journey through the storm on the shoulder of an unknown man. She was growing drowsy with the cold and excitement and had ceased to wonder if it would never end when she felt him turn sharply from the road a pace or two, then up some snow-muffled steps to a porch; heard a stamp and knock at the door.
“It’s me, Mother, open the door, please! I can’t get at my key!” he called. She roused and noticed that he was panting. How hard it must have been for him! And he was in a hurry. It came to her that the minister of their fashionable church in the city, which they attended semi-occasionally, would never have attempted a thing like this, would not have been able physically to carry it out if he had. Then hurrying footsteps interrupted her thoughts, and a flood of light broke over the little porch and blinded her eyes.
“Oh, my laddie!” she heard a sweet voice exclaim. “And what have you got? Did you lose your train?”
“No, Mother, the train is late. But I found this alone in the snow at the station and brought her to you. Take care of her, please, until the storm is over or I get back, for now I must hurry.”
He turned to the girl and began unbuttoning the big coat, blinking his eyes that still were blinded from coming into the light.
“I’ll have to have my coat now, if you please,” he said pleasantly, “and I hope I wasn’t over rough with you. I hope you’ll not suffer from the exposure.”
The coat fell away, and she looked up and tried to say the conventional thing—what was the conventional thing for such a time as this? But she could only blink and give a sorry little smile. Then her velvet wrap slipped back and fell away around her feet, and she stood there in the bright, little cottage room in her rosy silk and tulle dance frock, like some lovely draggled flower plucked out of its garden.
The young man stepped back and looked at her for an instant with a drawing in of his breath, for she was lovely. Her delicate makeup was a wreck, with the storm and her crying; her wisps of coral tulle were trailing limply around her feet; her hair was tousled and falling around her face; yet she was lovely, and he looked.
His mother, too, looked and was filled with dismay.
“But—Thurly!” she gasped, and the words brought him to his senses.
He turned, picked up the coat from the floor, and swung into it with a single motion, buttoning it high around his chin, which was still swathed in the brown woolen scarf.
“But Mother, I must go!” he said. “I’ve not an instant to waste. The lady will explain!” And he stooped and kissed his mother’s forehead. “I’m all right, Mother! There’s nothing to worry about.”
“But, Thurly! The storm! It’s so terrible! Just give it up and telegraph them it’s impossible!” she pleaded, following him to the door. “Do, Thurly, do! For my sake!”
“But, Mother, you know we had all that out on our knees awhile back. You know I must go. Now away to the lady, for she’s well nigh frozen and needs a hot drink at once, and warm blankets, or she’ll be ill!”
He smiled and was gone, and the mother stood for an instant watching him down the white path, vanishing into the white darkness, until even the little twinkle of the flashlight was invisible. Then the mother turned and shut the door and came back to her strange and unexpected guest.
Thurly Macdonald’s mother was small and frail and gentle. Her sweet old face had grown lovely with age, like a well-bred rose, with nevertheless a ruggedness about it that spoke of autumn frosts and weathered winds and a strong, green, vital stem.
She stood and faced this exotic girl that her son had suddenly thrust upon her, and her keen, farseeing eyes read much in the one glance with which she swept her very soul before she set to work to care for her.
The glance gave due tribute to the visitor’s loveliness, to the exquisite texture and vivid coloring of her attire, but it went further and seemed to analyze her character in one brief flash. Tasha felt suddenly unduly clothed. She shivered and tried to draw her cloak up from the floor.
“But we must get you warm at once!” said her hostess, flinging open a closet door and drawing out a thick, warm plaid shawl, so old and soft that it gave pleasure to the touch.
She wrapped it around the girl and tucked her up on the couch.
“Why, you poor little lassie,” she said in a sudden tenderness. “You’re all of a tremble! Wait, I’ll get some blankets and a hot water bag. We’ll soon have you warm.”
She hurried into the kitchen and set the hot water running, then upstairs and came down with her arms full of big soft blankets. It was incredible how fast a little old lady could move, and how much she could accomplish in a brief moment.
“We’ll just lift this off!” she said crisply as she came back to the girl who was struggling to control the shaking chill that had seized her as the warmth of the room began to penetrate her senses.
Mrs. Macdonald seemed to know just how to get off the wisp of rose silk and tulle, even though its intricacies must have been strange to her, and she did not gasp at the thin silk undergarments that were revealed beneath, though their brevity must have shocked her. With just a few motions she had the girl arrayed in a long, warm flannel nightgown, one of the old-fashioned kind with long sleeves and a high neck. It was probably the first of its kind the girl had ever seen, and certainly the first she had ever worn; but she shuddered into its folds gratefully and was glad of the big blankets that were tucked close around her. With a hot water bag at her feet and another against her back she presently began to feel a sense of delicious warmth, and the great shudders that had shaken her began to relax. But it was not until the cup of hot tea was given to her that she really began to feel comfortably warm once more.
“Now,” said Mrs. Macdonald, eyeing her keenly, “you’ll be wanting something more substantial. When did you eat last?”
“Oh,” said the girl remembering, “why, I was going to dinner, a dinner dance it was. It was to have been at eightthirty. It must be more than that now.” She dropped her head back wearily and snuggled into the blankets. “But don’t bother. I’m not the least bit hungry. I had lunch on the train coming up from the south. I’d rather have another cup of that nice tea.”
Mrs. Macdonald gave her another searching look and vanished into the kitchen. She returned in an incredibly short space of time with a tempting tray.
“Thurly and I had an oyster stew for supper tonight, just for a treat,” she said as she drew a small table to the side of the couch and put the tray upon it. “This hot broth will keep you from taking cold.”
The girl saw a sprigged china bowl, the steaming fragrance of whose contents made her know suddenly that she was hungry. There was a plate of delicately browned buttered toast, a tiny mound of ruby jelly, some crisp hearts of celery, and the cup of tea. She sat up almost briskly and did full justice to it, still enveloped in her blankets.
“I didn’t know I was so hungry,” she said gratefully. “But I’m sorry I have made you so much trouble. I really ought to get in touch with my home and have the chauffeur come for me—”
“But, my dear!” said Mrs. Macdonald, glancing significantly toward the window. “No chauffeur could get through the drifts tonight. This is a blizzard, you know. I have sore anxiety over my son going out in this terrible storm. I tried hard to keep him from attempting it, but now I see it was the Lord’s will, for he tells me you would have perished if someone had not helped you.”
“Oh!” said the girl, a kind of gray horror filling her face. “Yes, it was awful!” And she shivered at the memory. “Yes, I really didn’t know what to do. The snow went inside my clothes, and my shoe came off—”
“You poor little dear!”
But Anastasia Endicott was not accustomed to pity from anyone, not since her long gone baby days, and the sound of this gentle voice calling her a poor little dear brought a rush of quite involuntary tears. She could not understand such weakness in herself. She considered herself to be quite “hard boiled.”
“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she said, trying to pass if off with a laugh and mopping her eyes like a little girl with her pink flannel sleeve.
“There, there, little dear,” said Mrs. Macdonald, “you’re all tired out with the storm. Thurly said it was terrible! Here, let me get you a nice warm wash rag and wash your face. Then you’ll feel better!”
She came with the soft wet cloth and a towel that smelled of lavender and washed the girl’s face and wiped it as if she had been a little child. A soothed sense of love and care swept over the young thing that filled her with a strange yearning for something she had never known.
“Now, finish your soup, darling, and we’ll get you to bed,” said the elder woman comfortingly.
And Tasha obediently did as she was told.
“It’s a great pity we can’t telephone your folks. Our telephone seems to be out of order,” said her hostess. “Will your mother worry about you? Will the Framstead people send her word you have not arrived?”
The girl laughed, a hard, sharp little laugh full of a bitter mirth that did not belong in the elder woman’s world. She looked at the girl, startled, with the same doubt and trouble in her eyes that had been there when she first viewed the lovely little made-up face and the drabbled rosy finery.
“Lucia worry about me?” she mocked. “Not so you’d know it. She never concerns herself in the least about me!”
Then she saw the shocked sadness in the face of her hostess and explained. “I haven’t any real mother, you know. Lucia’s only a step. At least, I guess that’s what you’d call her. Dad’s been divorced twice, and Lucia’s the second mistake, though she’s not quite so bad as Clarice was. She was impossible. My first mother married an army officer, and she’s stationed in India. I haven’t seen her since I was four years old. Dad hated her so much for the way she went away that he got the court to fix it so I couldn’t go to her till I’m of age. But I’m not keen about her. I doubt if she remembers me anymore. I’ll be of age next summer, but I don’t think I shall bother with her. Why should I? She went off and left me, didn’t she? And India really never attracted me much. I’d rather stick to Dad.”
Mrs. Macdonald had lowered her eyes as at something indecent and began slowly going around the room, dusting the furniture with her best pocket handkerchief in an absentminded, careful way, not realizing what she was doing.
“Oh, my dear!” said Mrs. Macdonald, brushing away something like a tear from the corner of her eye as Tasha wound up her tale. “Oh, my little lost lamb!”
The girl looked at her half perplexed. Here seemed to be something sweet offered to her, which she did not quite understand.
“Oh, it’s all right,” she said carelessly. “Lucia isn’t half bad. She lets me alone and I let her alone. We get on finely. The only thing I can’t stand is when she borrows my car without asking me, but Dad has stopped that now. He told her he’d get her a new town car if she’d let mine alone.”
There was silence in the room while the girl finished the last bite of toast and jelly and drank her tea. Thurly’s mother was working thoughtfully with the books between the bookends on the little mahogany center table, changing them elaborately, the blue one next to the gold and brown, the red leather cover against the green leather, and then back again, studying them, as if their arrangement mattered. At last she lifted her sweet eyes to the girl and smiled.
“I wonder…” she said. But she did not say what she wondered. The girl felt as if she would like to know, as if it might be something that mattered.
Then the elder woman turned briskly, sweeping all other considerations aside.
“We must get you to bed!” she said. “You’ve been through a great strain and got a terrible chill. You must get tucked up all nice and warm and sleep it off. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
A great blast of wind swept around the house, and a little visible drift of snow peppered in around the edges of the front window. The girl saw the mother glance toward the front windows with a quick, anxious frown. Suddenly she realized that her rescuer was out there in the storm again, and there came a pull at her heart at the thought of breathing that cold, cold air and braving those drifts that long way back to the station. Where was he now? Had he reached the train in time, and was he riding safely to some other place? For what?
She voiced her thought. “Why did your son go out again? He ought not to have gone!” She drew her own brows and looked anxiously toward the window.
“He had to go, lassie. He was on the Lord’s errand. The Father will care for him.”
There was something beautiful and trustful in the woman’s face, a kind of silver radiance. The girl looked at her wonderingly and said, “Oh, is his father out there? What is he doing? What can anybody do in such a storm as this?”
“He rides upon the wings of the storm,” was the astonishing answer. The girl looked and the silver radiance was still there. The woman was not crazy, for she had a lovely smile in her eyes, like one who talks in tender enigmas.
“If his father is out there, why doesn’t he come in?” persisted the girl impatiently. She did not like enigmas. They baffled her.
The woman turned from the window and gave her a sweet, full look, the silver radiance changing to a golden smile.
“He is here, my child. I mean the Father, God!”