On the days that followed, the miracle came to be accepted by all Weston, which was much excited for a day or two over this honor done a favorite daughter, and by all the Pagets,—except Margaret. Margaret went through the hours in her old, quiet manner, a little more tender and gentle perhaps than she had been; but her heart never beat normally, and she lay awake late at night, and early in the morning, thinking, thinking, thinking. She tried to realize that it was in her honor that a farewell tea was planned at the club, it was for her that her fellow-teachers were planning a good-bye luncheon; it was really she—Margaret Paget—whose voice said at the telephone a dozen times a day, "On the fourteenth.—Oh, do I? I don't feel calm! Can't you try to come in—I do want to see you before I go!" She dutifully repeated Bruce's careful directions; she was to give her check to an expressman, and her suitcase to a red-cap; the expressman would probably charge fifty cents, the red-cap was to have no more than fifteen. And she was to tell the latter to put her into a taxicab.
"I'll remember," Margaret assured him gratefully, but with a sense of unreality pressing almost painfully upon her.—One of a million ordinary school teachers, in a million little towns—and this marvel had befallen her!
The night of the Pagets' Christmas play came, a night full of laughter and triumph; and marked for Margaret by the little parting gifts that were slipped into her hands, and by the warm good wishes that were murmured, not always steadily, by this old friend and that. When the time came to distribute plates and paper napkins, and great saucers of ice cream and sliced cake, Margaret was toasted in cold sweet lemonade; and drawing close together to "harmonize" more perfectly, the circle about her touched their glasses while they sang, "For she's a jolly good fellow." Later, when the little supper was almost over, Ethel Elliot, leaning over to lay her hand on Margaret's, began in her rich contralto:—
"When other lips and other hearts..."
and as they all went seriously through the two verses, they stood up, one by one, and linked arms; the little circle, affectionate and admiring, that had bounded Margaret's friendships until now.
Then Christmas came, with a dark, freezing walk to the pine-spiced and candle-lighted early service in the little church, and a quicker walk home, chilled and happy and hungry, to a riotous Christmas breakfast, and a littered breakfast table. The new year came, with a dance and revel, and the Pagets took one of their long tramps through the snowy afternoon, and came back hungry for a big dinner. Then there was dressmaking,—Mrs. Schmidt in command, Mrs. Paget tireless at the machine, Julie all eager interest. Margaret, patiently standing to be fitted, conscious of the icy, wet touch of Mrs. Schmidt's red fingers on her bare arms, dreamily acquiescent as to buttons or hooks, was totally absent in spirit.
A trunk came, Mr. Paget very anxious that the keys should not be "fooled with" by the children. Margaret's mother packed this trunk scientifically. "No, now the shoes, Mark—now that heavy skirt," she would say. "Run get mother some more tissue paper, Beck. You'll have to leave the big cape, dear, and you can send for it if you need it. Now the blue dress, Ju. I think that dyed so prettily, just the thing for mornings. And here's your prayer book in the tray, dear; if you go Saturday you'll want it the first thing in the morning. See, I'll put a fresh handkerchief in it—"
Margaret, relaxed and idle, in a rocker, with Duncan in her lap busily working at her locket, would say over and over:—
"You're all such angels,—I'll never forget it!" and wish that, knowing how sincerely she meant it, she could feel it a little more. Conversation languished in these days; mother and daughters feeling that time was too precious to waste speech of little things, and that their hearts were too full to touch upon the great change impending.
A night came when the Pagets went early upstairs, saying that, after all, it was not like people marrying and going to Russia; it was not like a real parting; it wasn't as if Mark couldn't come home again in four hours if anything went wrong at either end of the line. Margaret's heart was beating high and quick now; she tried to show some of the love and sorrow she knew she should have felt, she knew that she did feel under the hurry of her blood that made speech impossible. She went to her mother's door, slender and girlish in her white nightgown, to kiss her good-night again. Mrs. Paget's big arms went about her daughter. Margaret laid her head childishly on her mother's shoulder. Nothing of significance was said. Margaret whispered, "Mother, I love you!" Her mother said, "You were such a little thing, Mark, when I kissed you one day, without hugging you, and you said, 'Please don't love me just with your face, Mother, love me with your heart!'" Then she added, "Did you and Julie get that extra blanket down to-day, dear?—it's going to be very cold." Margaret nodded. "Good-night, little girl—" "Goodnight, Mother—"
That was the real farewell, for the next morning was all confusion. They dressed hurriedly, by chilly gas-light; clocks were compared, Rebecca's back buttoned; Duncan's overcoat jerked on; coffee drunk scalding hot as they stood about the kitchen table; bread barely tasted. They walked to the railway station on wet sidewalks, under a broken sky, Bruce, with Margaret's suit-case, in the lead. Weston was asleep in the gray morning, after the storm. Far and near belated cocks were crowing.
A score of old friends met Margaret at the train; there were gifts, promises, good wishes. There came a moment when it was generally felt that the Pagets should be left alone, now—the far whistle of the train beyond the bridge—the beginning of good-byes—a sudden filling of the mother's eyes that was belied by her smile.—"Good-bye, sweetest—don't knock my hat off, baby dear! Beck, darling—Oh, Ju, do! don't just say it—start me a letter to-night! ALL write to me! Good-bye, Dad, darling,—all right, Bruce, I'll get right in!—another for Dad. Good-bye, Mother darling,—goodbye! Good-bye!"
Then for the Pagets there was a walk back to the empty disorder of the house: Julie very talkative, at her father's side; Bruce walking far behind the others with his mother,—and the day's familiar routine to be somehow gone through without Margaret.
But for Margaret, settling herself comfortably in the grateful warmth of the train, and watching the uncertain early sunshine brighten unfamiliar fields and farmhouses, every brilliant possibility in life seemed to be waiting. She tried to read, to think, to pray, to stare steadily out of the window; she could do nothing for more than a moment at a time. Her thoughts went backward and forward like a weaving shuttle: "How good they've all been to me! How grateful I am! Now if only, only, I can make good!"
"Look out for the servants!" Julie, from the depth of her sixteen years-old wisdom had warned her sister. "The governess will hate you because she'll be afraid you'll cut her out, and Mrs. Carr-Boldt's maid will be a cat! They always are, in books."
Margaret had laughed at this advice, but in her heart she rather believed it. Her new work seemed so enchanting to her that it was not easy to believe that she did not stand in somebody's light. She was glad that by a last-moment arrangement she was to arrive at the Grand Central Station at almost the same moment as Mrs. Carr-Boldt herself, who was coming home from a three-weeks' visit in the middle west. Margaret gave only half her attention to the flying country that was beginning to shape itself into streets and rows of houses; all the last half hour of the trip was clouded by the nervous fear that she would somehow fail to find Mrs. Carr-Boldt in the confusion at the railroad terminal.
But happily enough the lady was found without trouble, or rather Margaret was found, felt an authoritative tap on her shoulder, caught a breath of fresh violets, and a glimpse of her patron's clear skinned, resolute face. They whirled through wet deserted streets; Mrs. Carr-Boldt gracious and talkative, Margaret nervously interested and amused.
Their wheels presently grated against a curb, a man in livery opened the limousine door. Margaret saw an immense stone mansion facing the park, climbed a dazzling flight of wide steps, and was in a great hall that faced an interior court, where there were Florentine marble benches, and the great lifted leaves of palms. She was a little dazed by crowded impressions; impressions of height and spaciousness and richness, and opening vistas; a great marble stairway, and a landing where there was an immense designed window in clear leaded glass; rugs, tapestries, mirrors, polished wood and great chairs with brocaded seats and carved dark backs. Two little girls, heavy, well groomed little girls,—one spectacled and good-natured looking, the other rather pretty, with a mass of fair hair,—were coming down the stairs with an eager little German woman. They kissed their mother, much diverted by the mad rushes and leaps of the two white poodles who accompanied them.
"These are my babies, Miss Paget," said Mrs. Carr-Boldt. "This is Victoria, who's eleven, and Harriet, who's six. And these are Monsieur—"
"Monsieur Patou and Monsieur Mouche," said Victoria, introducing the dogs with entire ease of manner. The German woman said something forcibly, and Margaret understood the child's reply in that tongue: "Mamma won't blame you, Fraulein; Harriet and I wished them to come down!"
Presently they all went up in a luxuriously fitted little lift, Margaret being carried to the fourth floor to her own rooms, to which a little maid escorted her.
When the maid had gone Margaret walked to the door and tried it, for no reason whatever; it was shut. Her heart was beating violently. She walked into the middle of the room and looked at herself in the mirror, and laughed a little breathless laugh. Then she took off her hat carefully and went into the bedroom that was beyond her sitting room, and hung her hat in a fragrant white closet that was entirely and delightfully empty, and put her coat on a hanger, and her gloves and bag in the empty big top drawer of a great mahogany bureau. Then she went back to the mirror and looked hard at her own beauty reflected in it; and laughed her little laugh again.
"It's too good—it's too much!" she whispered.
She investigated her domain, after quelling a wild desire to sit down at the beautiful desk and try the new pens, the crystal ink-well, and the heavy paper, with its severely engraved address, in a long letter to Mother.
There was a tiny upright piano in the sitting-room, and at the fireplace a deep thick rug, and an immense leather arm-chair. A clock in crystal and gold flanked by two crystal candlesticks had the centre of the mantelpiece. On the little round mahogany centre table was a lamp with a wonderful mosaic shade; a little book-case was filled with books and magazines. Margaret went to one of the three windows, and looked down upon the bare trees and the snow in the park, and upon the rumbling green omnibuses, all bathed in bright chilly sunlight.
A mahogany door with a crystal knob opened into the bedroom, where there was a polished floor, and more rugs, and a gay rosy wall paper, and a great bed with a lace cover. Beyond was a bathroom, all enamel, marble, glass, and nickel-plate, with heavy monogrammed towels on the rack, three new little wash-cloths sealed in glazed paper, three new tooth-brushes in paper cases, and a cake of famous English soap just out of its wrapper.
Over the whole little suite there brooded an exquisite order. Not a particle of dust broke the shining surfaces of the mahogany, not a fallen leaf lay under the great bowl of roses on the desk. Now and then the radiator clanked in the stress; it was hard to believe in that warmth and silence that a cold winter wind was blowing outside, and that snow still lay on the ground.
Margaret, resting luxuriously in the big chair, became thoughtful; presently she went into the bedroom, and knelt down beside the bed.
"O Lord, let me stay here," she prayed, her face in her hands. "I want so to stay—make me a success!"
Never was a prayer more generously answered. Miss Paget was an instant success. In something less than two months she became indispensable to Mrs. Carr-Boldt, and was a favorite with every one, from the rather stolid, silent head of the house down to the least of the maids. She was so busy, so unaffected, so sympathetic, that her sudden rise in favor was resented by no one. The butler told her his troubles, the French maid darkly declared that but for Miss Paget she would not for one second r-r-remain! The children went cheerfully even to the dentist with their adored Miss Peggy; they soon preferred her escort to matinee or zoo to that of any other person. Margaret also escorted Mrs. Carr-Boldt's mother, a magnificent old lady, on shopping expeditions, and attended the meetings of charity boards for Mrs. Carr-Boldt. With notes and invitations, account books and cheque books, dinner lists, and interviews with caterers, decorators, and florists, Margaret's time was full, but she loved every moment of her work, and gloried in her increasing usefulness.
At first there were some dark days; notably the dreadful one upon which Margaret somehow—somewhere—dropped the box containing the new hat she was bringing home for Harriet, and kept the little girl out in the cold afternoon air while the motor made a fruitless trip back to the milliner's. Harriet contracted a cold, and Harriet's mother for the first time spoke severely to Margaret. There was another bad day when Margaret artlessly admitted to Mrs. Pierre Polk at the telephone that Mrs. Carr-Boldt was not engaged for dinner that evening, thus obliging her employer to snub the lady, or accept a distasteful invitation to dine. And there was a most uncomfortable occasion when Mr. Carr-Boldt, not at all at his best, stumbled in upon his wife with some angry observations meant for her ear alone; and Margaret, busy with accounts in a window recess, was, unknown to them both, a distressed witness.
"Another time, Miss Paget," said Mrs. Carr-Boldt, coldly, upon Margaret's appearing scarlet-cheeked between the curtains, "don't oblige me to ascertain that you are not within hearing before feeling sure of privacy. Will you finish those bills upstairs, if you please?"
Margaret went upstairs with a burning heart, cast her bills haphazard on her own desk, and flung herself, dry-eyed and furious, on the bed. She was far too angry to think, but lay there for perhaps twenty minutes with her brain whirling. Finally rising, she brushed up her hair, straightened her collar, and, full of tremendous resolves, stepped into her little sitting room, to find Mrs. Carr-Boldt in the big chair, serenely eyeing her.
"I'm so sorry I spoke so, Peggy," said her employer, generously. "But the truth is, I am not myself when—when Mr. Carr-Boldt—" The little hesitating appeal in her voice completely disarmed Margaret. In the end the little episode cemented the rapidly growing friendship between the two women, Mrs. Carr-Boldt seeming to enjoy the relief of speaking rather freely of what was the one real trial in her life.
"My husband has always had too much money," she said, in her positive way. "At one time we were afraid that he would absolutely ruin his health by this—habit of his. His physician and I took him around the world,—I left Victoria, just a baby, with mother,—and for too years he was never out of my sight. It has never been so bad since. You know yourself how reliable he usually is," she finished cheerfully, "unless some of the other men get hold of him!"
As the months went on Margaret came to admire her employer more and more. There was not an indolent impulse in Mrs. Carr-Boldt's entire composition. Smooth-haired, fresh-skinned, in spotless linen, she began the day at eight o'clock, full of energy and interest. She had daily sessions with butler and house-keeper, shopped with Margaret and the children, walked about her greenhouse or her country garden with her skirts pinned up, and had tulips potted and stone work continued. She was prominent in several clubs, a famous dinner-giver, she took a personal interest in all her servants, loved to settle their quarrels and have three or four of them up on the carpet at once, tearful and explanatory. Margaret kept for her a list of some two hundred friends, whose birthdays were to be marked with carefully selected gifts. She pleased Mrs. Carr-Boldt by her open amazement at the latter's vitality. The girl observed that her employer could not visit any institution without making a few vigorous suggestions as she went about, she accompanied her cheques to the organized charities—and her charity flowed only through absolutely reliable channels—with little friendly, advisory letters. She liked the democratic attitude for herself,—even while promptly snubbing any such tendency in children or friends;—and told Margaret that she only used her coat of arms on house linen, stationery, and livery, because her husband and mother liked it. "It's of course rather nice to realize that one comes from one of the oldest of the Colonial families," she would say. "The Carterets of Maryland, you know.—But it's all such bosh!"
And she urged Margaret to claim her own right to family honors: "You're a Quincy, my dear! Don't let that woman intimidate you,—she didn't remember that her grandfather was a captain until her husband made his money. And where the family portraits came from I don't know, but I think there's a man on Fourth Avenue who does 'em!" she would say, or, "I know all about Lilly Reynolds, Peggy. Her father was as rich as she says, and I daresay the crest is theirs. But ask her what her maternal grandmother did for a living, if you want to shut her up!" Other people she would condemn with a mere whispered "Coal!" or "Patent bath-tubs!" behind her fan, and it pleased her to tell people that her treasure of a secretary had the finest blood in the world in her veins. Margaret was much admired, and Margaret was her discovery, and she liked to emphasize her find.
Mrs. Carr-Boldt's mother, a tremulous, pompous old lady, unwittingly aided the impression by taking an immense fancy to Margaret, and by telling her few intimates and the older women among her daughter's friends that the girl was a perfect little thoroughbred. When the Carr-Boldts filled their house with the reckless and noisy company they occasionally affected, Mrs. Carteret would say majestically to Margaret:—
"You and I have nothing in common with this riff-raff, my dear!"
Summer came, and Margaret headed a happy letter "Bar Harbor." Two months later all Weston knew that Margaret Paget was going abroad for a year with those rich people, and had written her mother from the Lusitania. Letters from London, from Germany, from Holland, from Russia, followed. "We are going to put the girls at school in Switzerland, and (ahem!) winter on the Riviera, and then Rome for Holy Week!" she wrote.
She was presently home again, chattering French and German to amuse her father, teaching Becky a little Italian song to match her little Italian costume.
"It's wonderful to me how you get along with all these rich people, Mark," said her mother, admiringly, during Margaret's home visit. Mrs. Paget was watering the dejected-looking side garden with a straggling length of hose; Margaret and Julie shelling peas on the side steps. Margaret laughed, coloring a little.
"Why, we're just as good as they are, Mother!"
Mrs. Paget drenched a dried little dump of carnations.
"We're as good," she admitted; "but we're not as rich, or as travelled,—we haven't the same ideas; we belong to a different class."
"Oh, no, we don't, Mother," Margaret said quickly. "Who are the Carr Boldts, except for their money? Why, Mrs. Carteret,—for all her family!—isn't half the aristocrat Grandma was! And you—you could be a Daughter of The Officers of the Revolution, Mother!"
"Why, Mark, I never heard that!" her mother protested, cleaning the sprinkler with a hairpin.
"Mother!" Julie said eagerly. "Great-grandfather Quincy!"
"Oh, Grandpa," said Mrs. Paget. "Yes, Grandpa was a paymaster. He was on Governor Hancock's staff. They used to call him 'Major.' But Mark—" she turned off the water, holding her skirts away from the combination of mud and dust underfoot, "that's a very silly way to talk, dear! Money does make a difference; it does no good to go back into the past and say that this one was a judge and that one a major; we must live our lives where we are!"
Margaret had not lost a wholesome respect for her mother's opinion in the two years she had been away, but she had lived in a very different world, and was full of new ideas.
"Mother, do you mean to tell me that if you and Dad hadn't had a perfect pack of children, and moved so much, and if Dad—say—had been in that oil deal that he said he wished he had the money for, and we still lived in the brick house, that you wouldn't be in every way the equal of Mrs. Carr-Boldt?"
"If you mean as far as money goes, Mark,—no. We might have been well to-do as country people go, I suppose—"
"Exactly!" said Margaret; "and you would have been as well off as dozens of the people who are going about in society this minute! It's the merest chance that we aren't rich. Just for instance: father's father had twelve children, didn't he?—and left them—how much was it?—about three thousand dollars apiece—"
"And a Godsend it was, too," said her mother, reflectively.
"But suppose Dad had been the only child, Mother," Margaret persisted, "he would have had—"
"He would have had the whole thirty-six thousand dollars, I suppose, Mark."
"Or more," said Margaret, "for Grandfather Paget was presumably spending money on them all the time."
"Well, but, Mark—" said Mrs. Paget, laughing as at the vagaries of a small child, "Father Paget did have twelve children—and Daddy and I eight—" she sighed, as always, at the thought of the little son who was gone,—"and there you are! You can't get away from that, dear."
Margaret did not answer. But she thought to herself that very few people held Mother's views of this subject.
Mrs. Carr-Boldt's friends, for example, did not accept increasing cares in this resigned fashion; their lives were ideally pleasant and harmonious without the complicated responsibilities of large families. They drifted from season to season without care, always free, always gay, always irreproachably gowned. In winter there were daily meetings, for shopping, for luncheon, bridge or tea; summer was filled with a score of country visits. There were motor-trips for week-ends, dinners, theatre, and the opera to fill the evenings, German or singing lessons, manicure, masseuse, and dressmaker to crowd the morning hours all the year round. Margaret learned from these exquisite, fragrant creatures the art of being perpetually fresh and charming, learned their methods of caring for their own beauty, learned to love rare toilet waters and powders, fine embroidered linen and silk stockings. There was no particular strain upon her wardrobe now, nor upon her purse; she could be as dainty as she liked. She listened to the conversations that went on about her,—sometimes critical or unconvinced; more often admiring; and as she listened she found slowly but certainly her own viewpoint. She was not mercenary. She would not marry a man just for his money, she decided, but just as certainly she would not marry a man who could not give her a comfortable establishment, a position in society.
The man seemed in no hurry to appear; as a matter of fact, the men whom Margaret met were openly anxious to evade marriage, even with the wealthy girls of their own set. Margaret was not concerned; she was too happy to miss the love-making element; the men she saw were not of a type to inspire a sensible busy, happy, girl with any very deep feeling. And it was with generous and perfect satisfaction that she presently had news of Julie's happy engagement. Julie was to marry a young and popular doctor, the only child of one of Weston's most prominent families. The little sister's letter bubbled joyously with news.
"Harry's father is going to build us a little house on the big place, the darling," wrote Julie; "and we will stay with them until it is done. But in five years Harry says we will have a real honeymoon, in Europe! Think of going to Europe as a married woman! Mark, I wish you could see my ring; it is a beauty, but don't tell Mother I was silly enough to write about it!"
Margaret delightedly selected a little collection of things for Julie's trousseau. A pair of silk stockings, a scarf she never had worn, a lace petticoat, pink silk for a waist. Mrs. Carr-Boldt, coming in in the midst of these preparations, insisted upon adding so many other things, from trunks and closets, that Margaret was speechless with delight. Scarves, cobwebby silks in uncut lengths, embroidered lingerie still in the tissue paper of Paris shops, parasols, gloves, and lengths of lace,—she piled all of them into Margaret's arms. Julie's trousseau was consequently quite the most beautiful Weston had ever seen; and the little sister's cloudless joy made the fortnight Margaret spent at home at the time of the wedding a very happy one. It was a time of rush and flurry, laughter and tears, of roses, and girls in white gowns. But some ten days before the wedding, Julie and Margaret happened to be alone for a peaceful hour over their sewing, and fell to talking seriously.
"You see, our house will be small," said Julie; "but I don't care—we don't intend to stay in Weston all our lives. Don't breathe this to any one, Mark, but if Harry does as well as he's doing now for two years, we'll rent the little house, and we're going to Baltimore for a year for a special course. Then—you know he's devoted to Dr. McKim, he always calls him 'the chief,'—then he thinks maybe McKim will work him into his practice,—he's getting old, you know, and that means New York!"
"I don't see why not," Julie said, dimpling. "Harry's crazy to do it. He says he doesn't propose to live and die in Weston. McKim could throw any amount of hospital practice his way, to begin with. And you know Harry'll have something,—and the house will rent. I'm crazy," said Julie, enthusiastically, "to take one of those lovely old apartments on Washington Square, and meet a few nice people, you know, and really make something of my life!"
"Mrs. Carr-Boldt and I will spin down for you every few days," Margaret said, falling readily in with the plan. "I'm glad you're not going to simply get into a rut the way some of the other girls have,—cooking and babies and nothing else!" she said.
"I think that's an awful mistake," Julie said placidly. "Starting in right is so important. I don't want to be a mere drudge like Ethel or Louise—they may like it. I don't! Of course, this isn't a matter to talk of," she went on, coloring a little. "I'd never breathe this to Mother! But it's perfectly absurd to pretend that girls don't discuss these things. I've talked to Betty and Louise—we all talk about it, you know. And Louise says they haven't had one free second since Buddy came. She can't keep one maid, and she says the idea of two maids eating their three meals a day, whether she's home or not, makes her perfectly sick! Some one's got to be with him every single second, even now, when he's four,—to see that he doesn't fall off something, or put things in his mouth. And as Louise says—it means no more week end trips; you can't go visiting over night, you can't even go for a day's drive or a day on the beach, without extra clothes for the baby, a mosquito-net and an umbrella for the baby—milk packed in ice for the baby—somebody trying to get the baby to take his nap—it's awful! It would end our Baltimore plan, and that means New York, and New York means everything to Harry and me!" finished Julie, contentedly, flattening a finished bit of embroidery on her knee, and regarding it complacently.
"Well, I think you're right," Margaret approved. "Things are different now from what they were in Mother's day."
"And look at Mother," Julie said. "One long slavery! Life's too short to wear yourself out that way!"
Mrs. Paget's sunny cheerfulness was sadly shaken when the actual moment of parting with the exquisite, rose-hatted, gray-frocked Julie came; her face worked pitifully in its effort to smile; her tall figure, awkward in an ill-made unbecoming new silk, seemed to droop tenderly over the little clinging wife. Margaret, stirred by the sight of tears on her mother's face, stood with an arm about her, when the bride and groom drove away in the afternoon sunshine.
"I'm going to stay with you until she gets back!" she reminded her mother.
"And you know you've always said you wanted the girls to marry, Mother," urged Mr. Paget. Rebecca felt this a felicitous moment to ask if she and the boys could have the rest of the ice-cream.
"Divide it evenly," said Mrs. Paget, wiping her eyes and smiling. "Yes, I know, Daddy dear, I'm an ungrateful woman! I suppose your turn will come next, Mark, and then I don't know what I will do!"