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THE WINGS OF THE MORNING.
T was the middle of a hot midsummer afternoon. The blinds of the big Maitland home were closed, allowing no stray beam of sunlight to filter through their latticed chinks. The heat beat down on the tin roof and was reflected fiercely back into the sky. Over the parched lawn, faint shimmering lines rose trembling in the white glare of the sun. The intense stillness was broken only by the rhythmic whirr of a lawn-mower, faint and intermittent, coming from a distance.
Bradford was a small town and the Maitlands had always lived there. Judge Maitland had built this house on the ground where the old homestead had stood. Three of his four daughters had never married. They had found no one in Bradford who filled their requirements and they had therefore remained single, partly from necessity, partly from choice. Alice, the youngest of the four, had decided things for herself. She had married a young inventor with a future which had never materialized. Her sisters were very sorry for her. In summer, they sent her baskets of vegetables from the garden and occasionally gifts of outworn clothes. Ten years later when she had died from worry and overwork they had adopted her little girl Elaine and brought her up.
On this hot summer afternoon, Miss Agatha Maitland sat in the parlor of the house, her thin, blue veined hands folded in her lap. Her long face with the high Maitland nose was inscrutable. Only a person who knew her in all her moods could have guessed her feelings by the faint narrowing of her eyes. To the young man sitting opposite her, on the stiff black walnut chair, her face was as expressionless as the carved face in the cameo pin she was wearing.
Hal Drummond looked at her. "Of course," he said, "Elaine's happiness comes first. Then you don't wish me to see her or even let her know I am here until after you have talked with her." "Exactly," said Miss Agatha, and, rising, she indicated that
the interview was over. The room with its high ceiling and long, narrow windows, was very cool despite the heat outside. It had that penetrating chill of a vault long unused to sunlight. The outside door, being opened, the light glared in, followed by a rush of stifling air. Hal Drummond turned on the doorstep. "You will tell Elaine," he said, "the reason for my not coming to see her."
"I shall do what is right," said Miss Agatha, and, with a brief nod of dismissal, she shut the door and went to join her sisters. on the side porch.
She found her two sisters eagerly waiting for her. "Well, what did he say?" asked Miss Mary, holding up her ear-phone, eager to catch all of the conversation. "He wanted to marry Elaine," said Miss Agatha, "and I told him that under present circumstances it was quite impossible. Furthermore I didn't wish him to attempt to see her until we had talked to her about it."
"So I understand," said Miss Mary, who had only gotten part of the conversation. "Mrs. Campbell said that his mother and sister sit in front of her in church and that they are quite impossible!"
"Not only that," said Miss Agatha, "but the boy is a dreamer. He has no money and there is not the slightest prospect of his ever having any. To let Elaine even consider such a match is out of the question. It will not be necessary to tell Elaine that he was here. He will not hear from us or from her. He is only going to stay here over the week-end and then is going back to the city. The entire thing will blow over. It was three years ago that he left here and Elaine has had time to forget about it."
"I don't think," said Miss Helen, speaking for the first time, "that you do Elaine justice. It was three years ago, I know, but she has been writing to him regularly and once when I casually mentioned Hal Drummond's financial position she said she would rather be poor with him than marry anyone else in the world. `She is determined, Agatha, and I am afraid you will have a hard time."
Miss Agatha stiffened as she spoke. "That is what Alice said. and you know what happened. I shall not allow Elaine to repeat the experiment. No matter what happens she shall not marry Hal Drummond."
"Hush!" cried Miss Mary, catching sight of Elaine's slim figure as she crossed the lawn. "Here she is." Miss Helen, looking up, recognized with a smile the young face under the drooping garden hat. "Elaine grows to look more and more like her mother," she said softly. The other two were silent. Helen always made inopportune remarks.
Elaine reached the steps and sat down. She smiled in response to their greeting, and, taking off her hat, she fluffed with her fingers the golden hair which lay in damp ringlets on her forehead. "You have no idea how hot it is," she said. Miss Helen looked at her. She knew Elaine better than either of her sisters. Elaine, even as a little girl, had come to her with her troubles, and she knew from the troubled expression in Elaine's eyes that something was worrying her.
As they were going into the dining-room Elaine spoke to her. "Auntie," she said. "I saw Mary Drummond this afternoon and she said that Hal is in town. I didn't see him." She looked up eagerly into her aunt's face. "Was he here when I was out?"
Miss Helen was at a loss for a reply. Her New England conscience would not permit of a deliberate falsehood and so she clung tenaciously to the truth. "I didn't see him, dear," she said, and since her answer was perfectly truthful she couldn't account for the treacherous feeling she experienced as she followed her niece into the dining-room.
After supper, according to custom, the aunts went to sit on the porch. "He must come to-night," said Elaine to herself. She settled down in a wicker chair under the honeysuckle at the opposite end of the porch to the one on which her aunts were sitting. They were talking in low tones. Aunt Agatha and Aunt Helen were engaged in embroidering doilies for the table, while Aunt Mary, peering through the vines, was watching the passers-by, occasionally speaking to her sisters when she recognized anyone she knew.
Elaine sat with her hands folded in her lap waiting for the sound of a footstep on the gravel walk. The long summer twilight accompanied by the drowsy twittering of birds gradually drew to a close. The other end of the porch was lost in shadow. She was no longer conscious to her aunts. A low
voiced remark from one of them or the occasional squeak of a rocker was the only sign of their presence.
It grew late. The sounds from the street had gradually died away. From the garden came the accusing note of the katydid. Elaine was not able to sit quietly any longer. She got up and went inside. Delia was lighting the lamps preparatory to taking them upstairs. "Delia," she said, "was there anyone here this afternoon ?"
Delia was busy adjusting the wicks. However, she looked up. "Yes, miss," she said. "Mr. Drummond was here to see your aunt."
"Thank you, Delia," said Elaine quietly, and, going into the next room, she sat down in an arm-chair. She was too hurt to think clearly, she could only realize that she had been deceived. She sat without moving until after her aunts had gone to bed. There was only one thing to do. She must get in touch with Hal at once. She sat down and wrote to him. It was a very brief letter telling him of the incident of the afternoon and arranging to meet him the following evening at eight. It was a short letter, but she knew that if he still loved her it was enough to bring him to her regardless of what obstacles stood in the way.
Old Dennis collected the last mail from the corner box at eleven and she hastened out to post it. Outside there was not a breath of wind stirring and the moon far above looked yellow and hazy in the sky. She turned and gazed at the square, midVictorian house silhouetted against it. She wondered as she posted her letter if her mother had left that strange glow of happiness when she had done the same thing so many years ago.
Returning to the house, she blew out the hall light that had been left burning. "Hal will be here to-morrow," she said softly to herself, and then she went upstairs, tip-toeing so as not to wake her aunts.
Behind the Maitland house was a small knoll from which the ground sloped gently away in meadows. Through the middle of them could be seen a black gash where the railroad had cut the Maitland property in half and from the house the noise of the engine could plainly be heard as it went rumbling down the
valley. It was to this knoll that Elaine came the following afternoon.
It was still hot, but there under the trees it was fairly comfortable. Elaine did not work. Her hands lay listlessly in her lap. Her eyes looked off down the valley. The hills seemed to fade away. She felt herself free to do as she wished. She would marry Hal. The world was waiting for them. She would not fade out of existence like her aunts.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the whistle of the Winsted express as it came around the curve. She watched it, fascinated, as it thundered through the meadows, rattling over the trestle and finally rumbling down the valley, the sound punctuated by the fierce intermittent shrieks of the whistle.
Elaine sat looking at the tracks long after the sound of the train had died away in the distance. She was awakened from her reverie by the dinner chimes, faint yet persistent. She rose and went up the hill to the house. "Hal will be here to-night," and with this thought she reassured herself as she walked through the garden.
There were only three at supper. "Your Aunt Agatha is not well," announced Aunt Mary, dishing out potato salad on thin old-fashioned plates. Elaine hurried through supper and went to her room.
There was a knock at the door and Aunt Helen entered. She stood watching Elaine for a few moments as if hesitating to begin. "Your Aunt Agatha is not well," she finally began. "It is little wonder with so much to worry about."
"Worry about?" queried Elaine, turning from the mirror as she spoke. "Why, what is wrong?"
"Dear, we kept it from you as long as we could. We have to leave this house in September.."
"Leave our home?" cried Elaine, looking around the familiar room. "Why is that?"
"You see, dear, ever since the factory burnt we have been steadily going backwards. No one wants to buy land here. The town isn't growing. We have kept on in this house long after we should have closed it. Now we can't even pay the interest on the taxes. The bank will have to foreclose and sell it at