Children of the Whirlwind - novelonlinefull.com
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All the way to Cedar Crest they said not another word; just clung to each other in the darkness, sobbing--the first miraculous embrace of a father and daughter who had each found that which they had never expected to have.
It was ten the next morning at Cedar Crest, and Larry Brainard sat in his study mechanically going over his figures and plans for the Sherwood housing project.
For Larry the storms of the past few weeks, and the whirlwind of last night, had cleared away. There was quiet in the house, and through the open windows he could glimpse the broad lawn almost singing in its sun-gladdened greenness, and farther on he could glimpse the Sound gleaming placidly. Once for perhaps ten minutes he had seen the overalled and straw-hatted figure of Joe Ellison busy as usual among the flowers. He had strained his eyes for a glimpse of Maggie, but he had looked in vain.
Despite all that had come to pa.s.s at the Grantham the previous evening, Larry was just now feeling restless and rather forlorn. His breakfast had been brought to him in his room, and he had not seen a single member of last night's party at the Grantham since they had all divided up according to Miss Sherwood's orders and driven away; that is he had really seen no one except d.i.c.k.
d.i.c.k had gripped his hand when he had slipped in beside d.i.c.k in the low seat of the roadster. "You're all right, Captain Nemo!--only I'm going to be so brash as to call you Larry after this," d.i.c.k had said. "If you'll let me, you and I are going to be buddies."
He was all right, d.i.c.k was. d.i.c.k Sherwood was a thoroughbred.
And there was another matter which had pleased him. The d.u.c.h.ess had called him up that morning, had congratulated him in terms so brief that they sounded perfunctory, but which Larry realized had all his grandmother's heart in them, and had said she wanted him to take over the care of all her houses--those she had put up as bail for him.
When could he come in to see her about this?... He understood this dusty-seeming, stooped, inarticulate grandmother of his as he had not before. Considering what her life had been, she also was a brick.
But notwithstanding all this, Larry was lonely--hungrily lonely--and was very much in doubt. Miss Sherwood had spoken to him fair enough the night before--yet he really did not know just how he stood with her. And then--Maggie. That was what meant most to him just now. True, Maggie had emerged safe through perils without and within; and to get her through to some such safety as now was hers had been his chief concern these many months. He wanted to see her, to speak to her. But he did not know what her att.i.tude toward him would now be. He did not know how to go about finding her. He was not even certain where she had spent the night. He wanted to see her, yet was apulse with fear of seeing her. She would not be hostile, he knew that much; but she might not love him; and at the best a meeting would be awkward, with so wide a gap in their lives to be bridged....
He was brooding thus when there was a loud knocking at his door. Without waiting for his invitation to enter, the door was flung open, and Hunt strode in leaving the door wide behind him. His face was just one great, excited grin. He gave Larry a thump upon the back, which almost knocked Larry over, and then pulled him back to equilibrium by seizing a hand in both of his, and then almost shook it off.
"Larry, my son," exploded the big painter, "I've just done it! And I did it just as you ordered me to! Forgot that Miss Sherwood and I had had a falling out, and as per your orders I walked straight up to her and asked her. And Larry, you son-of-a-gun, you were right! She said 'yes'!"
"You're lucky, old man!" exclaimed Larry, warmly returning the painter's grip.
"And, Larry, that's not all. You told me I had the clearness of vision of a cold boiled lobster--said I was the greatest fool that ever had brains enough not to paint with the wrong end of an umbrella. Paid me some little compliment like that."
"Something like that," Larry agreed.
"Well, Larry, old son, you were right again! I've been a worse fool than all you said. Been blinder than one of those varnished skulls some tough-stomached people use for paper-weights. After she'd said 'yes'
she gave me the inside story of why we had fallen out. And guess why it was?"
"You don't want me to guess. You want to tell me. So go to it."
"Larry, we men will never know how clever women really are!" Hunt shook his head with impressive emphasis. "Nor how they understand our natures--the clever women--nor how well they know how to handle us. She confessed that our quarrel was, on her part, carefully planned from the beginning with a definite result in view. She told me she'd always believed me a great painter, if I'd only break loose from the pretty things people wanted and paid me so much for. The trouble, as she saw it, was to get me to cut loose from so much easy money and devote myself entirely to real stuff. The only way she could see was for her to tell me I couldn't paint anything worth while, and tell it so straight-out as to make me believe that she believed it--and thus make me so mad that I'd chuck everything and go off to prove to her that I d.a.m.ned well could paint! I certainly got sore--I ducked out of sight, swearing I'd show her--and, oh, well, you know the rest! Tell me now, can you think of anything cleverer than the way she handled me?"
"It's just about what I would expect of Miss Sherwood," Larry commented.
"Excuse me," said a voice behind them. "I found the door open; may I come in?"
Both men turned quickly. Entering was Miss Sherwood.
"Isabel!" exclaimed the happy painter. "I was just telling Larry here--you know!"
Miss Sherwood's tone tried to be severe, and she tried not to smile--and she succeeded in being just herself.
"I came to talk business with Mr. Brainard. And I'm going to stay to talk business with Mr. Brainard. But I'll give him five seconds for congratulations--provided at the end of the five seconds Mr. Hunt gets out of the room."
Larry congratulated the two; congratulated them as warmly as he felt his as yet dubious position in this company warranted. At the end of the five seconds Hunt was closing the door upon his back.
"I've always loved him--and I want to thank you, Mr. Brainard," she said with her simple directness. And before Larry could make response of any kind, she shifted the subject.
"I really came in to see you on business, Mr. Brainard. I hope I made my att.i.tude toward you clear enough last night. If I did not, let me say now that I think you have made good in every particular--and that I trust you in every particular. What I wished especially to say now," she went on briskly, giving Larry no chance to stammer out his appreciation, "is that I wish to go ahead without any delay with your proposition for developing the Sherwood properties in New York City which we discussed some time ago. A former objection you raised is now removed: you are cleared, and are free to work in the open. I want you to take charge of affairs, with d.i.c.k working beside you. I think it will be d.i.c.k's big chance. I've talked it over with him this morning, and he's eager for the arrangement. I hope you are not going to refuse the offer this time."
"I can't--not such an offer as that," Larry said huskily. "But, Miss Sherwood, I didn't expect--"
"Then it's settled," she interrupted with her brisk tone. "There'll be a lot of details, but we'll have plenty of time to talk them over later."
She stood up. "There are some changes here at Cedar Crest which I want begun at once and which I want you to supervise. If you don't mind we'll look things over now."
He followed beside her along the curving, graveled walks. She headed toward the cliff, but he had no idea where she was leading until a sharp turn brought them almost upon the low cottage which these last few weeks had been Joe Ellison's home.
"Here is where we start our changes," said the business-like Miss Sherwood. "The door's open, so we might as well go right in."
They stepped into a tiny entry, and from thence into a little sitting-room. The room was filled with cut flowers, but Larry did not even see them. For as they entered, Maggie sprang up, startled, from a chair, and, whiter than she had been before in all her life, gazed at him as if she wanted to run away. She stood trembling and slender in a linen frock of most simple and graceful lines. It was Miss Sherwood's frock, though Larry did not know this; already it had been decided that all those showy Grantham gowns were never to be worn again.
Once more Miss Sherwood came to the rescue of a stupendous situation, just as her tact had rescued a situation too great for words the night before.
"Of course you two people now perceive that I'm a fraud--that I've got you together by base trickery. So much being admitted, let's proceed."
She turned on Larry. "Maggie--we've agreed that I am to call her that--Maggie stayed with me last night. There are two beds in my room.
But we didn't sleep much. Mostly we talked. If there's anything Maggie didn't tell me about herself, I can't guess what there's left to tell.
According to herself, she's terrible. But that's for us to judge; personally I don't believe her. She confessed that she really loved you, but that after the way she'd treated you, of course she wasn't fit for you. Which, of course, is just a girl's nonsense. I suppose you, Mr.
Brainard, are thinking something of the sort regarding your own self. It is equally nonsense. You both love each other--you've both been through a lot--nothing of importance now stands between you--so don't waste any of your too short lives in coming together."
She took a deep breath and went on. "You might as well know, Mr.
Brainard, that Maggie is going to live with me for the present--that, of course, she is going to be a very great burden to me--and it will be a great favor to me if you'll marry her soon and take her off my hands."
And then the voice that had tried to keep itself brisk and even, quavered with a sudden sob. "For Heaven's sake, dear children--don't be fools!"
And with that she was gone.
For an instant Larry continued to gaze at Maggie's slender, trembling figure. But something approaching a miracle--a very human miracle--had just happened. All those doubts, fears, indecisions, unexpressed desires, agonies of self-abas.e.m.e.nt, which might have delayed their understanding and happiness for weeks and months, had been swept into nothingness by the incisive kindliness of Miss Sherwood. In one minute she had said all they might have said in months; there was nothing more to say. There was nothing left of the past to discuss. Before them was only the fact of that immediate moment, and the future.
Tremblingly, silently, Larry crossed to that trembling, silent figure in white. She did not retreat. Tremblingly he took her hands and looked down into her dark eyes. They were now flowing tears, but they met his squarely, holding back nothing. The look in her eyes answered all he desired to know just then, for he gathered her tight into his arms.
Wordlessly, but with a sharp, convulsive sob, she threw her arms about his neck--and thus embracing, shaken with sharp sobs, they stood while the minutes pa.s.sed, not a single word having been spoken. And so it was that these two, both children of the storm, at last came together....
Presently Joe Ellison chanced to step unsuspectingly into the room.
Seeing what he did, he silently tiptoed out. There was a garden chair just outside his door. Into this he sank and let his thin face fall into his hands. His figure shook and hot tears burned through his fingers.
For his heart told him that his great dream was at last come true.