THE HEART OF RACHAEL
The day had opened so brightly, in such a welcome wave of April sunshine, that by mid-afternoon there were two hundred players scattered over the links of the Long Island Country Club at Belvedere Bay; the men in thick plaid stockings and loose striped sweaters, the women's scarlet coats and white skirts making splashes of vivid color against the fresh green of grass and the thick powdering of dandelions. It was Saturday, and a half-holiday; it was that one day of all the year when the seasons change places, when winter is visibly worsted, and summer, with warmth and relaxation, bathing and tennis and motor trips in the moonlight, becomes again a reality.
There was a real warmth in the sunshine to-day, there was a fragrance of lilac and early roses in the idle breezes. "Hot!" shouted the players exultantly, as they passed each other in the green valleys and over the sunny mounds. "You bet it's hot!" agreed stout and glowing gentlemen, wiping wet foreheads before reaching for a particular club, and panting as they gazed about at the unbroken turf, melting a few miles away into the new green of maple and elm trees, and topped, where the slope rose, by the white columns and brick walls of the clubhouse.
Motor cars swept incessantly back and forth on the smooth roadway; a few riders, their horses wheeling and dancing, went down the bridle path, and there was a sprinkling of young men and women and some shouting and clapping on the tennis-courts. But golf was the order of the day. At the first tee at least two scores of impatient players waited their turn to drive off, and at the last green a group of twenty or thirty men and women, mostly women, were interestedly watching the putting.
Mrs. Archibald Buckney, a large, generously made woman of perhaps fifty, who stood a little apart from the group, with two young women and a mild-looking blond young man, suddenly interrupted a general discussion of scores and play with a personality.
"Is Clarence Breckenridge playing to-day, I wonder? Anybody seen him?"
"Must be," said the more definite of the two rather indefinite girls, with an assumption of bright interest. Leila Buckney, a few weeks ago, had announced her engagement to the mild-looking blond young man, Parker Hoyt, and she was just now attempting to hold him by a charm she suspected she did not possess for him, and at the same time to give her mother and sister the impression that Parker was so deeply in her toils that she need make no further effort to enslave him.
She had really nothing in common with Parker; their conversation was composed entirely of personalities about their various friends, and Leila felt it a great burden, and dreaded the hours she must perforce spend alone with her future husband. It would be much better when they were married, of course, but they could not even begin to talk wedding plans yet, because Parker lived in nervous terror of his aunt's disapproval, and Mrs. Watts Frothingham was just now in Europe, and had not yet seen fit to answer her nephew's dignified notification of his new plans, or the dutiful and gracious note with which Miss Leila had accompanied it.
The truth, though Leila did not know it, was that Mrs. Frothingham had a pretty social secretary named Margaret Clay, a strange, attractive little person, eighteen years old, whose mother had been the old lady's companion for many years. And to Magsie, as they all called her, young Mr. Hoyt had paid some decided attention not many months before. Mrs. Frothingham had seen fit to disapprove these advances then, but she was an extraordinarily erratic and cross-grained old lady, and her silence now had forced her nephew uncomfortably to suspect that she might have changed her mind.
"Darn it!" said the engaging youth to himself "It's none of her business, anyway, what I do!" But it made him acutely uneasy none the less. He was the possessor of a good income, as he stood there, this mild little blond; it came to him steadily and regularly, with no effort at all on his part, but, with his aunt's million--it must be at least that--he felt that he would have been much happier. There it was, safe in the family, and she was seventy-six, and without a direct heir. It would be too bad to miss it now!
He thought of it a great deal, was thinking of it this moment, in fact, and Leila suspected that he was. But Mrs. Buckney, aside from a half-formed wish that young persons were more demonstrative in these days, and that the wedding might be soon, had not a care in the world, and, after a moment's unresponsive silence, returned blithely to her query about Clarence Breckenridge.
"I haven't seen him," responded one of her daughters presently. "Funny, too! Last year he didn't miss a day."
"Of course he'll get the cup as usual, this year," Mrs. Buckney said brightly. "But I don't suppose young people with their heads full of wedding plans will care much about the golf!" she added courageously.
To this Miss Leila answered only with a weary shrug.
"Been drinking lately," Mr. Hoyt volunteered.
"You say he has?" Mrs. Buckney took him up promptly. "Is that so? I knew he did all the time, of course, but I hadn't heard lately. Well--! Pretty hard on Mrs. Breckenridge, isn't it?"
"Pretty hard on his daughter," Miss Leila drawled. "He has all kinds of money, hasn't he, Park?"
"Scads," said Mr. Hoyt succinctly. Conversation languished. Miss Leila presently said decidedly that unless her mother stood still, the sun, which was indeed sinking low in the western sky, got in everyone's eyes. Miss Edith said that she was dying for tea; Mr. Hoyt's watch was consulted. Four o'clock; it was a little too early for tea.
At about five o'clock the sunlight was softened by a steadily rising bank of fog, which drifted in from the east; a mist almost like a light rain beat upon the faces of the last golfers. There were no riders on the bridle path now, and the long line of motor cars parked by the clubhouse doors began to move and shift and lessen. People with dinner engagements melted mysteriously away, lights bloomed suddenly in the dining-room, shades were drawn and awnings furled.
But in the club's great central apartment--which was reception-room, lounging-room, and tea-room, and which, opened to the immense porches, was used for dances in summer, and closed and holly-trimmed, was the scene of many a winter dance as well--a dozen good friends and neighbors lingered for tea. The women, sunk in deep chairs about the blazing logs in the immense fireplace, gossiped in low tones together, punctuating their talk with an occasional burst of soft laughter. The men watched teacups, adding an occasional comment to the talk, but listening in silence for the most part, their amused eyes on the women's interested faces.
Here was a representative group, ranging in age from old Peter Pomeroy, who had been one of the club's founders twelve years ago, and at sixty was one of its prominent members to-day, to lovely Vivian Sartoris, a demure, baby-faced little blonde of eighteen, who might be confidently expected to make a brilliant match in a year or two. Peter, slim, hard, gray-haired and leaden-skinned, well-groomed and irreproachably dressed, was discussing a cotillion with Mrs. Sartoris, a stout, florid little woman who was only twice her daughter's age. Mrs. Sartoris really did look young to be the mother of a popular debutante; she rode and played golf and tennis as briskly as ever; it was her pose to bring up the subject of age at all times, and to threaten Vivian with terrible penalties if she dared marry before her mother was forty at least.
Old Peter Pomeroy, who had a shrewd and disillusioned gray eye, thought, as everyone else thought, that Mrs. Sartoris was an empty-headed little fool, but he rarely talked to a woman who was anything else, and no woman ever thought him anything but markedly courteous and