If You Touch

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9. Chapter IX



The Poor Boy could not get Miss Jocelyn Grey out of his head, nor that look which she had had of belief in him. The episode was a rejuvenation, and there were days when he was steadily joyful from morning to night.

He was having luncheon one day, and he said to Martha:

"I never knew what Miss Joy believed. But ever since I saw--thought I saw her--that time--I've been as sure as sure that she knew justice had miscarried."

"I'm for thinking you're right," said old Martha.

"But if she believed in me, why didn't she write and say so? We were such good friends until we had a sort of misunderstanding."

"You never told me about that."

"Oh, it was silly. We were both staying with the Brettons; and one day Miss Joy turned her ankle and I wanted to carry her back to the house, and she wouldn't let me. Every step she took hurt her a lot, and me more. I was a spoiled boy. I always did what I wanted to do. It seemed to me that I wanted to carry her more than anything I'd ever wanted to do. And she wouldn't let me. So we managed to misunderstand each other very thoroughly, and then things began to happen--things began to happen."

The Poor Boy sighed. Then he looked up with a smile and a blush.

"I've always thought," he said, "that if she had let me carry her, I would have asked her to marry me. Anyway, it's the nearest I ever came to asking any one."

"And not very near," said Martha, "since she wouldn't be bothered with a lift."

"She was a good kid," said the Poor Boy. And then, more than half to himself: "I think I'll have her up for a visit."

"Fwaat!" exclaimed Martha.

"I'll have her stay with some of my make-believe people," he said. "She'll be the first person to come here that I ever knew before. She shall stay with--with? I have it, she's a guest of Lord Harrow's daughter, and they've just moved into Harrow Hall. That's the new Georgian House, on Lilly Pond...."

"When I was in New York I saw Miss Joy."

"You did!"

"She was prettier than any picture. She come up and give me both hands and says: 'Why, Martha;' And then we talked.--And she never believed you did it, never!"

"Ah! She might have written!"

"Troubles came on her poor father. He lost his money, and he died. She lost thought for any one but him."

"Miss Joy--poor; How dreadful! How wrong! What is she doing?"

"She's a sort of companion and helper to a rich old woman, and she's saving her wages against a rainy day."

The Poor Boy was terribly troubled about his old friend. She had been so generous, so debonair, such a gay and charming spender.

"Oh!" he cried. "Can't I do anything?"

"Once before," said old Martha, "ye tried for to give her a lift, and you know well what came of it."

His eyes flashed.

"She shall stay at Harrow Hall," he said. "Every day I shall take her walking, and every day she shall turn her ankle, and I shall carry her back to her house. And when I find out how poor she is I shall kill an old uncle of hers in the southwest--she never heard of him--his name is Eliphalet Pomfret Grey, and he shall leave her a pot of money.--Did she send me any message, Martha?"

"She did not."

He was sorry--inside.

Miss Joy thought that the Poor Boy was a very long time at his luncheon. She was feeling rather blue and lonely. She wanted to talk to Martha, and here it was half past two o'clock, and Martha still in the dining-room with the Poor Boy.

She could hear the sound of their voices but not the words. She could have heard the words by listening at the pantry door. But it never entered her head to do so. She was working at a marble-topped table trying to compose a cake according to a very complicated inspiration in a cookbook that weighed seven pounds. Miss Joy had a vague idea that her cake, not a large cake, was going to weigh more. It was going to be very dark and rich, something like a wedding-cake.

Martha came at last from the dining-room, and examined the mixture which Miss Joy had made.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Lady Godiva."

"Lady God help us! And what is the antidote?"

"Hard work in the open air. Why were you so long?"

"We got talking!"

"What about?"

"Mostly about the dangers of falling down and hurting yourself."

"Why," asked Miss Joy innocently, "is it so slippery out?"

Martha was overjoyed, and began to execute a sort of cautious tiptoe dance.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm showing ye how an old woman walks on thin ice," said Martha. She stopped dancing. "The Poor Boy is off to his playground, and it's time you got ready for your walk."

"Did he say when he was coming back?"

"'Not before dark,' he said."

"Then I can go as far as the Three Beeches," said Miss Joy. She drew a long breath.

"'Tis a pity ye have to walk alone."

"But it's doing me so much good. I'd hate to know what I weigh."

"Be careful you don't fall and hurt yourself," said Martha. "And be careful your red cheeks don't set the woods on fire."

"Oh, Martha, are they--too red?"

"Miss Joy"--this with solemn and heartfelt faith--"unless it is for a nose now and then, the Lord Gawd never made anything too red in his life--"

The Poor Boy hurried to the beautiful new Georgian home that Lord Harrow had built on Lilly Pond, and was already occupying. As befitted a great man he had the whole lake to himself. His house, backed by noble beeches and pines, faced south, and was a wonderful deep red, with white trim. The house opened directly on a terrace, which in turn was built out over the lake. It was formally planted to box and roses. It was all under snow now, but white mounds marked the positions of the box-bushes, and neat stakes and straw jackets showed where the roses would bloom.

The terrace garden would be a great show in June. And the Poor Boy had no difficulty in closing his eyes for a moment and so seeing it.

The Poor Boy, privileged old friend that he was, entered without ringing, and started through the ground floor of the house, stopping at times to admire a mantel-piece, a ceiling, or a painting. Lord Harrow's new hothouses being in full blast, there were flowers everywhere, and great logs of birch roared and crackled in all the fireplaces. The Poor Boy peeped into the dining-room and drew back, his eyes almost drunk with mahogany, and gold and Spanish leather. Under a table in the hall stood a great silver punch-bowl in which water was kept for Don, the spaniel, to drink. There were stags' heads on the walls, and on each side of the stairway stood a splendid suit of Gothic armor. One suit was inlaid with enamel, black as ebony, and the other with red gold.

The Poor Boy lifted his voice and called up the columned wall of the stair:

"Anybody home!"

Lord Harrow's daughter leaned over the rail. She had a very white face and very wonderful red hair. Her way of speaking always reminded the Poor Boy of pearls falling from a string one by one.

"Joy Grey's just come," she said. "She's changing into outdoor things. Do you mind waiting?"

"How is she?" asked the Poor Boy eagerly.

"Oh, she's white and tired after all she's been through, poor duck; don't let her overdo at first. Where are you going to take her?"

"Aren't you coming with us?"

Three pearls fell.

"How--you--talk!"

"But--but--"

"Nonsense," exclaimed Lord Harrow's daughter. "You're head over ears in love with her, and she with you."

"What!" exclaimed the Poor Boy. "Do you mean that!"

"Mean it? Of course I do. And everybody knows it--except you two. I was in the village yesterday, and the people had heard that she was coming--to you--to you--and they were hanging wreaths in the windows as if for Christmas. When we drove through the village on our way here they lined the main street and cheered her."

"What did she do?"

"She was delighted. She thought they were cheering my father and me, and she said she was so glad that she had been asked to visit such wonderful distinguished people. The little duck!"

"The little goat," cried the Poor Boy. "The darling little goat!"

"Only call her that to her face--and she's yours."

"I daren't," said the Poor Boy, "now that I know that I love her--"

"Lucky I told you!" This with pearly sarcasm.

"Now that I know--I'm afraid--I'm afraid.... But I've always loved her. It began in Arcadia, that is, Central Park. You roller-skate there when you are little. She was knee-high to a grasshopper, and I was shoulder-high. She wore a coat of gosling-green with facings of primrose-yellow, and when she fell and barked the knee of one stocking I took her to old Martha, and old Martha mended her. Her knee itself wasn't really hurt, but it was all rough and gritty from the asphalt. She didn't cry. And so I loved her. Why is she so long changing into outdoor things?"

"Hush!" pearled Lord Harrow's daughter. "She's coming."

And the Poor Boy's heart echoed: "She's coming--she's coming."

At the last moment reason and experience whispered in his ear: "Don't be a fool--don't spoil everything. If you tell her you love her and she says she loves you, why the least you can do is to kiss her, and you know as well as I do that if you touch them they vanish."

So the Poor Boy walked with Joy that day and the next and the next, and they were never very far apart, and he got to love her more and more. And the more he loved her the more dangerous was it to tell her so, for things got to such a point that if she had suddenly vanished, the blow would almost have broken his heart.