Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 6)

Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins 

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page 105


Bella Wayne's father had been in the royal navy. His health had given way about the same time as his patience on the vexed question of non-promotion. He retired from the service, went with his American wife and family to Califonria on a visit, became enamoured of the climate, bought a place, and settled there. The three youngest of his seven children were born in Tulare County, but for him "home" was still England, however ungrateful. They all went back every second year to visit his father in Staffordshire, and when Bella's two sisters found English husbands, there were three reasons for the recurrent visit to the old country. The eldest son, Tom Wayne, had made a fortune on the New York Stock Exchange and married girl belonging to one of the old Knickerbocker families. Tom's country house on Staten Island proved highly convenient as a half-way station between England and California. Mrs. Tom was a very charming person, and a certain portion of Bella's satisfaction in going abroad lay in the chance it presented of making a visit to Staten Island, on the way over and back. Nevertheless, as she never failed to tell Hildegarde on her return, there was no place to be compared to California, no friend and no "in-law" who could make up to her for being away from

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Hildegarde, and she might have added, from the neighborhood of that obdurate creature with the cold blue eyes and the colder heart, Louis Cheviot. Those who thought about it at all were surprised that the friendship of the two girls was not more interrupted upon Hildegarde's graduating from the school, when Bella was less than fifteen. But not upon community of tasks, rather upon something essential in the nature of each had their alliance been founded--kept vital by wants in each that the other could supply, excesses in each that the other helped to modify. They themselves thought their relation had its deeper roots in a convition of the peculiar sanctity of girls' friendships; a creed to which Hildegarde's fidelity effected Miss Bella's actual adhesion only by degrees and with notable backslidings.

But even in early days, Bella felt it was highly distinguished to stand in this relation to one who thought and talked about it as Hildegarde did. Had n't she said in that soft, deliberate way of hers, that it was capable of being one of the most beautiful things in all the beautiful world? It was something, she said, no man knew anything about. Why, they presumed to doubt its possibility even! Ah, they should have known Hildegarde Mar and Bella Wayne. Men believed that all girls were, at heart, jealous of all other girls. They thought meanly of the sex. They pointed to David and Jonathan, to Orestes and Pylades, to instances innumberable of men's faithfulness to men. But what bard or legend celebrates woman's friendship as toward woman? Well, you see, all the chroniclers since the beginning of the world have been of the scoffer's sex. That was why women's freindships had never been celebrated--though men said the

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real reason was--oh, they spoke blasphemies!--and they had n't known Hildegarde and Bella. It was Hildegarde's theme, but Bella agreed to every word. Yes, yes, their friendship would show the world!

For qualities alien to her own, Hildegarde came to look upon her little friend with an adoring admiration. Bella's wit and Bella's originality, Bella's entire "mode of being," were at once tonic and delight. Then, too, behind her provoking charm was a finished daintiness, which with her became elevated into a special quality, distinctive, all-pervading, a certain strangeness of fragility--a physical fineness like the peculiar fineness of a flower--a something suggesting evanescence, and having the subtle pathos of the thing that may not, cannot abide.

It would have been hard to say which was of most use to the other in making clearer the riddle of life, or more radiant the beauty of the world, or more wonder-waking, the mystery of a young girl's heart. They read, and walked, and talked, and worked together, paying their vaunted friendship a finer tribute than words, however honestly uttered; for they grew in each other's company.

The younger, too, was cured of certain of her more inadmissible "ways," while the elder learned from Butterfly Bella many a thing besides the art of making the most of her beauty.

Not that Hildegarde despised this last. She had none of the comfort of knowing it was part of her largeness of nature, that she should take more easily to beautifying her home than to making the best of herself. Indeed to the end of time, she required guidance in matters of dress. And who so well qualified as Miss Bella to give

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advice. She went further: with her own ingenious little hands she made the most becoming of "shirt-waists," trimmed heavenly hats, and firmly forbade fripperies.

"No, no, they 're not for the massive." She applauded her friend for not wearing trinkets--she did n't like to see her even in with her maternal grandmother's emerald brooch. "No, I don't like you in 'didoes' of any sort. They 're too insignificant for you. You ought to wear ropes of pearls, or a tiara of diamonds, or better still, something barbaric--what 's one little lady-like emerald set in a filigree of diamond chips? Why, it can't even be seen--on you. Of course the emerald 's a prettyl little stone, and the old setting 's nice. It would shie out on me, but--well, it 's simly lost, you know, on your heroic neck."

Hildegarde deploted her size, she carried it even with a sense of humiliation just as she bore with her lack of elegant accomplishments. It was pretty terrible to have to put up with being a great lump--especially with the ethereal Bella always by to point the advantage of the opposite. Sitll, there was no blinking the facts. "You 're right, I believe, didoes of any sort are rather wasted on me, " Hildegarde would say meekly, "I must have felt that when I hardly ever wore them--thogh I liked them. It takes you, Bella, to explain things."

Nothing was ever allowed to come in the way of their spending their Saturday afternoons toghether, and if, as time went on, less was heard about Jack from Hildegarde, it was only because sovery much more was heard about Chevoit from Bella.

It was a difficult moment when two girls with such lofty ideas of friendship met for the first time after Che-

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viot had said to Hildegarde at a dance: "When are you going to begin to care for me?" She had been so take by surprise that she had only smiled and said: "I don't know," but she thought hardly s less of Bella at the moment than she thought of Jack. So the next time that Bella remarked by the way: Is n't he perfectly fascinating?" Hildegarde had hesitated, and she--yes--she ws actually getting red. Bella stared, "why are you coming to--to--"

"No; oh, no! Only--"

"only what?"

"It 's dreadfully hard, but I have n't forgotten our compact. So I suppose I 've got to tell you what--what he said to me last night."

Bella received the information with a half-hysterical pretense of carrying it off gaily. "Well, what 's there new in that? As if every soul in Valdivia has n't known for perfect ages that he cares about you frightfully. I don't mind you. Because you 're Hldegarde, and any man who did n't love you must--well, there must be something pretty wrong about him. I shall give him a whole year--maybe two, to go on like that, and them when I 'm sixteen, or seventeen at the latest, I won't have it any longer."

Hildegarde, enormously relieved, laughed and kissed her. "Oh, you nice, funny child!"

"Only promise me again, cross your heart and hope you may die, if you ever keep anything from me about Louis Cheviot."

Hildegarde complied and life went on as before--only that Hildegarde showed herself less ready to fall in with Bella's ecstasies. An instinct to forestall a possible

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jealousy made her cavil from time to time. "Don't you think hsi shoulders are too broad for his height?"

"No, I don't, and look how splendidly he carries them. You have to see him beside a huge man, like Mr. Mar, before you realize--"

"Yes, yes; that 's true," Hildegarde hastened to heal the wound.

"And, anyhow, I don't think it 's kind of you to run Louis down. I am always very nice about Jack."

The end of it was that Cheviot came more and more to the Mar house, and seemed so diverted when he found the lively Bella there, that Hildegarde gave herself up without reserve to the three cornered friendship.

He took the girls boating and organized parties to the Tule Lands, and was altogether a most invaluable ally in the agreeable pursuit of being a you lady in her first season.

Still, when Bella praised him absolutely without moderation, "Y-yes," Hildegarde would respond, "he is nice, only-"

"Only what?" says Miss Bella, instantly on the defensive.

"Well, you know I prefer big men."

"Of course you do. It 's being so massive yourself. But he 's exactly the right size for me."

"Oh, yes, and he 's quite the nicest of all the Valdivia boys."

"Well, that 's going a pretty far," says Bella, with an edge in her voice.

Then the other, with that recurrent though only half-conscious need to sho that after all, she, Hildegarde, was n't dazzled--not being in Bella's state, she could see

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blemishes--the older girl would add: "and yet somehow for all his niceness, and making us always have a good time when he 's there, to my thjinking there 's something terribly unromantic about Louis Cheviot."

"Now you only say that," retorts Miss Bella, with sparkling eyes, "because he 's in a bank."

"No--no," vaguely, "but I don't believe he 's got any soul."

"Just because he is n't hunting the North Pole!"

"No. That is n't the reason. I assure you it is n't."

"Then it can only be because he likes to laugh at everything."

"He is pretty frivolous." said Hildegarde, "and he ridicules friendship. But no, it 's not that either. It 's because he 's kind of chilling. To me."

"Chilling to you?" Bella beamed. :Oh, do tell me about that."

"Sometimes he 's positively rude."

"To you?" Bella could have danced.

"To anybody."

On but when was he positvely rude to you? How blacke-hearted of you, Hildegarde, not to tell me that before! You might have known I 'd simply love hearing about that."

Hildegarde laughed. "Why, I have n't seen you since Thursday."

"Was it at your birthday party?"

"Yes, at the birthday party."

"Well, well, how did he do it? What did he say?"

"It was after we 'd all been reading the poem that came with Eddie Cox's present. Louis made fun of it."

"That was only being rude to Eddie." Bella's face fell.

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"Wait till you hear. I defended it, of course, and said: 'It is n't as easy as it looks to make birthday odes.' 'It certainly does n't look difficult--to make that kind,' he said. 'Then why,' I said, just to stand up for Eddie, 'why have you never written a poem about my airy tread?' And Louis said" 'Well, ther may be another reason, but no girl who satnds five foot ten in her stockings and weighs a hundred and fifty pounds need ask it.' That 's the kind of thing."

It was an incident Miss Bella loved to recall. No man could be really in love with a girl he had said that to.

But some months later, Hildegarde was obliged, according to the code. to report that Cheviot had been "going on" again.

Bella insisted on having all the "horrid details."

"It was last night at the taffy pulling. You know how we 'd all been laughing at his stories of Miss Monk meeting the Carters' black cow--"

"Yes, yes"

"Well, I was laughing so I could n't stop, and it was so warm in that room the candy was melting. You remember what he said--"

"Oh, yes," said Bella, with feeling, " I remember. He said you must come and pull with him."

"--out in the porch where the candy and I would cool off."

"And you went."

"And he made more jokes on the way out. I begged him not to talk any more, for I 'd got into a silly mood and everything he said made me laugh. 'I know, I know,' he said. 'I labor under the fatal disadvantage of the funny man, but I could make you serious you know.'

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And then--then--he had the impertinence --to kiss me."

"Oh, Hildegarde!"

"Yes. It was dreadfully grotesque, too--our hands were stuck together by that great yellow rope of taffy, and I could only stammer and get redder. But I did say I was not foing to forgive him. Nobobyd had ever bee so rude to me before. Then he got awfully serious and said all kinds of things--"

What kind?"

And at last he asked me what was wrong with Ch-Cheviot--your old joke, you know."

Bella clenched her hands. Sacrilege! to present her joke to another girl! She had always imagined that would be just how he would propose to her. He would say: Bella, my beautiful, what 's the matter with Ch-Cheviot?"

"Well, go on."

If I dod n't like hime enough he said, what sort of man was I going to like? And I thought it only fair to give him some idea, so I tried to soften it by laughing a little--I 'd forgiven him by then, you know, for he 'd said such things--"

"What things?"

"Oh, sorry kind of things, and he looked so--so--well, I 's forgiven him. But I told him plainly that if it ever is a question of the sort of man I am to care for, it won't be some one who is just nice and makes me have a good time. It will be some great, gloomy creature who makes me cry--and lifts me to the stars. I was laughing, but I meant it--and I said: 'I'd worship that kind of man.'"

"What did he say then?"

"Well, he looked sort of down I thought, so I said:

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'You would n't let me worship you, even if I could.' 'I 'd let you love me,' he said."

"Oh-h. What else?"

"We went in after that."

"And he was just as funny as ever," said Bella, clutching at frail comfort.

"Oh, quite," agreed Hildegarde.

It was small consolation to Miss Bella that Cheviot was singular in his obduracy. Before she was eighteen she was uncommonly well accustomed to seeing the stoutest masculine defenses go down before her. The two Mar boys had long bee her devoted slaves. And Bella had flirted with both of them impartially, taking what she felt was only a becoming share in the interest all Valdivia felt in those go-ahead young men, whenever they came home for a visit. They were pointed to as models. Look how they "got on"--they did it visibly--while you looked they seemed to have to restrain themeselves from rising out of your sight. They kept Miss Bella supplied with candy and flowers and they corresponded with her when she went abroad. Secretly dreading the fascinations of the Britisher, they asked in scoffing postscripts how the effete nations were getting on. Bella's view of all this was that, provided the young men were "nice," a girl could hardly have too many of them contending for her favor. It was what they were there for. Each time she came home, she brought the Mar boys a scarf-pin apiece, and pleased them still more by invariably demanding a cent in return. "I can't give you a thing with a point. Something dreadful would happen! you must but them." That looked, they felt, as if she were "taking it seriously"--but which was she taking?

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The year that Bella was eighteen, after a summer in England, she arrived at Staten Island just in time to celebrate her birthday. She was full of joy at getting back.

The conscious approval that she bestowed on the greater splendor of the American autumn had been generoudly extended to the profusion of tine fruit that greets one here at breakfast, to the individual bathrooms, even to the spacious, drawered, behooked, and shelved slothes-closets so agreeably numerous in the American house. The same satisifaction with which she had noted these things consciously revisited her as she trod the wide, shallow steps of the staircase, that in its descent halted leisurely upon tow broad landings, having each a large unglazed window opening upon the hall below. The observant young eyes paid a flitting tirbute to the beautiful woodwork of the balusters and the gret tall doors of the rooms she passed, decideing as she went, there 's nothing nicer than a new American house, unless it 's an old (and a very old) English one. Even then, to live in, give her the American.

Like so many of the first generation born in "the States," this child of an old-world father was moe American in tastes and spirit than any daughter of the Revolution. But, partly as a matter of physical inheritatnce, partly, perhaps, because of her frequent visits to England, she bore about her still a good deal of the peculiar stamp of a certain type of English girl. As shecame trailing slowly down the wide staircase of Tom Wayne's country home on Staten Island, the practised eye would have little difficulty in detecting a difference between the figure on the stair and the typical "Amer-

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ican beauty," a something less sumptuous and more distinguished. Her head held not quite so high, and yet in her carriage something indefinable more aloof. The longer waist, not quite so ruthlesly stayed and belted, giving an effect of greater ease; the onger neck, the shoulders a little more sloping, the eyes less eager and yet with more vision in them--something in the whole, gracious as the aspect was, a little reluctant and more than a little elusive. The Paquin gown Bella had brought back and wore to-night for the first time, was long, and straight, and plainer than prescribed by the New York fashion of the moment--a guaze, discreetly iridescent, showing over a white satin petticoat shifting lights of pink, and pearl, and silver, a gown that shimmered as the wearer walked, and clothed her in glancing light and soft-hued shadows.

Bella knew that she was very early, and she game down slowly, drawing a long glove up her slim, bare arm. When she reached the square window on the lower landing, she stopped, laid the other glove on the sill, and proceeded to button the one she had on. A slight noise in the hall below made her lean her arms on the broad, polished sill of the opening, and look down.

A man stood by a table facing her, but with eyes bent upon the books he was turning over--a man rather over medium height, sunburnt, with a lean, clean-shaven face, fair hair, and clean cut mouth and chin. That was all she had time to take in before he raised his eyes.

"oh!" ejaculated Bella, involuntarily, and then after meeting amoment longer the wide, unwinking, upward look, "How dod you do!" she said.

"How do you do," echoed the sunburnt man, and he

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did not bow nor move; just stood looking at the picture up there on the wall.

Miss Bella was not as a rule easily embarrassed, but she was conscious now of feeling a little at a loss.

"I don't know wxactly why I am in such a hurry to say 'how do you do,' that I can't wait till I come down. But I do know you, don't I?"

"Of course you know me"; but that time he smiled, and Bella said to herself, how could I have forgotten anybody so--so--

She picked up her glove with the intention of running down. But, I expect I look rather nice here in the window, she reflected, and instead of going down instantly she said: "It 's some time since I was here before."

"Yes, it 's a long time," he answered. His tone pleased her.

"And I run about the world such a lot, I can't be expected to remember everybody's name just all at onece, can I ?"

"Oh, the name does n't matter."

"Does that mean you are n't quite sure of mine?"

"I have n't the faintest notion of it."

"Then how do you know--what made you say, 'Of course I knew you'?"

Because I was sure you did."

"Why should I remember you, any more than you should remember me? ARe you somebody special?"

Very special."


"Oh, you 'll hear."

"How shall I hear?"

"I 'll tell you myself."

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"Well, go on."

"I can't, now."

"Why not?"

"You--you re too far off."

"When I come down, you 'll tell me?"

Will you?--will you ever come down?" He was smiling.

"Why should n't I?" she said, bewildered.

"I never saw it tried before."

"Never saw me try to some down-stairs!"

"Never yet."

Had he been here that time she sprained her ankle? "Do you imagine I 'm lame?"

"On the contrary, I 'm ready to believe you have wings. Please fly down."

"What a very odd person you are! I can't think how I came to forget--"

He made no answer. Just stood there leaning against the heavy table, half-smiling and never turning away his eyes.

She caught up her glove and ran down several steps, but just before she reached the open place where the stair turned abruptly, and the solid wall gave way to a procession of slender pillars, she stopped, overcome by a sudden ruch of shyness. Behind that last yard of sheltering wall she waited breathless, while you might count seven, and then turned on a noiseless foot and fled up-stairs, bending low as she padded the square windows, so that not even the top of her brown head should be visible to that very odd man waiting for her down there in the hall.

She reappeared ten minutes later with the first batch

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of guests, and while they were speaking to their hostess, the sunburnt man made his way to Bella, and held out his hand.

"It took you a long time," he said. "how did you manage it?"

"Manage what?"

"Getting down. You 're the cleverest picture I ever saw on any wall. How long do they give you?"

"Out of the frame?" she said, catching up his fancy with a laugh. "Oh, only long enough to find out what you 've done to make you the special person you say you are."

"It 's not what I have done, but what I shall do."

"Well, I 'm very much disappointed. I thought you must be distinguished, and now I see you 're only conceited."

He smiled--he was rather wonderful when he smiled.

"Of course, I know perfectly well we 've met before," Bella went on, "but I don't remember who you are."

"I'll tell you some day."

"Some day? How absurd. Why not now?"

"Because the surprise might be too great."

She opened her eyes wider and laughed as a girl will in recognition of a point she sees as yet only with the eye of faith. "Did n't you promise you 'd tell me if I came down?"

"But you have n't come down. You are still far out of reach."

"It's ridiculous of you not to tell me your name."

"My name would n't mean anything to you--not yet. You would n't know it."

"What!" She drew back.

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"But we have met," he reassured her hurriedly.

"I felt we must have, but where was it?"

"I can't quite remember, either. It may have been when you were Queen in Babylon and I was a Christian slave."

She drew nearer with lit face. "Oh, do you believe in all those delightful things?"

"I believe--" he began on a different and lower not and then he stopped suddenly. Bella's upturned face silently begged him to go on with his profession of faith.

But hust then, Bella's brother, having passed a boring quest on to his wife, came between the two who stood so oblivious of the rest of the company. The apparition of Tom Wayne brought Bella back to the every-day world, and to a half-frightened self-criticism, in view of the long flight she had taken from it in the last few seconds.

Her brother laid an affectionate hand on the shoulder of the sunburnt man, and said, laughing, to Bella: "You must be careful with this person. He 's the most desperate flirt."

Bella winced inwardly, but she disguised the little hurt with smiling mockery. "Really! I should never have thought it!"

"Oh, yes, goes off with first one heart and then another. And he goes so far! That 's the worst of him."

"Where does he go?"

"Lord knows! Let 's see, what God-forgotten place was the last book about?"

Oh, you write books? Then you are distinguished--"

"You are n't telling me you did n't know who it was?" exclaimed her brother.

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"Well, I thought I did, and I've been behaving as if I did."

There was a general movement to the dinint-room, but Tom paused long enough to say with mock formality: "Miss Wayne, Mr. John Galbraith."

Oh!" ejaculated the girl, growing pink with excitement. "Are you Hildegarde's Jack?"

The sunburnt man looked mysitfied a moment, and then with sudden daring, "Is your name Hildegarde?" he said.

This was on the twenty-fourth of September. Six days later she began a letter to her friend. 

"Oh, Hildegarde! Hildegarde! You 're quite right. He 's the most wonderful person in the world, and I hope you don't mind, but we are engaged to be married--JAck Galbraith and I! It turns out that he 's an old friend of Marion's family, and after she married my brother, when Jack came to see them last winter, Tome liked him awfully--of course everybody does that--and since then they 've all three been great friends.

"And one of the first things he asked me when he heard Tom came from near Valdivia, was all about you--I mean your father. He says such beautiful things about your father, and how kind he was when JAck was a poor, forlorn, little boy. But oh, Hildegarde! he 's the most glorious person now you ever saw in your life. The old faded photograph is n't like him, either. But I am going to get a silver frame for it and I shall be dreadfully hurt if you don't put it on the altar-table, with the old locket and the roses--if you 're really glad of our happi-

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ness you 'll even burn a joss now and then for our sake. I 'm miserable when I think how little good any photograph of such a person is! You can't imagine what it 's like when he smiles. All the whole earth smiles, too. I adore him when he smiles--and when he does n't. I adore him every minute, except when he talks about Franz Josef Land, or something disgusting like that. But then he does n't do it much--never, except when Mr. Borisoff is here. Mr. Borisoff is a man I can't stop to tell you about, only I don't like him, and I shall let Jack know some day that i don't think he is a good influence.

"But I began to say that you must n't think Jack is the least solemn as his letters used to sound and as the pictures make out. In fact, he bagan our acquaintance by flirting quite desperately, but he says it was n't flirting at all. He meant all thos things! He says they were a profession of faith upon a miraculous revelation (that 's me--I 'm the miraculous revelation!), and it only sounded flirtatious because I did n't realize, as he did, that we had been waithing for one another.

"He 's waited a good deal longe that I have, poor Jack! He 's more than twelve years older than I am; do you remember how you used to throw that in my face? But it does n't matter the least in the world. Besides, you 'd never think he was so old--he 's such a darling; and he talks like a poet, and a painter, and an archangel, all rolled into one. I am so wildly happy I can't write a proper letter, only I do want you to knwo that your mother is mistaken, as we always thought. Jack is a saint--simply a saint. When my father behaved quite horridly, and said he could n't have me marrying a man who went away for two or three years on long, scientific expeditions, Jack said he would n't do it any more,

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though I thingk it cost him something to say that. He was quite silent for hours afterward, and did n't even notice I 'd done my hair differently. And that horrid Mr. Borisoff was in such a rage. He did n't say anything, but oh! he looked. But now he 's gone away, thank goodness, and I shall try to make Jack not ever see him again. Then another thing, just to show you what a perfect angel Jack is. Mu mother said I was delicate and too young, and things like that, and she got father to agree that I was on ly eighteen and was the weakling of the family, and they made up their wick old minds that I must n't be married right away as Jack and I had arranged. And what do you think? Jack said he would wait for me? A whole year! I cried when they settled that, but was n't he a seraph? Fathers and mothers are very selfish; I shall not treat my daughters like that.

"How Jack andI will ever get through a year of waiting is more than either of us know. I am not coming home till the first week in December, and Jack 's coming to us for Christmas. And then you 'll see him! I hope you are pleased that I 'm going to marry the man we 've talked so much about. It seems like another bond, does n't it? Hos is Louis Cheviot? I can forgive him now for always liking you best. I can't imagine how I ever looked at him. Oh, Hildegarde, Jack is a perfect--well, I never heard the word that was beautiful enough to describe him.

"Good-by, I hear him now out in the garden. Jack is the most perfect whistler.

"Your loving and devoted


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