The last hushed chord died into silence, but the woman lingered, dreaming over the keys. Firelight from the end of the room brought red- gold gleams into the dusky softness of her hair and shadowed her profile upon the opposite wall. No answering flash of jewels met the questioning light—there was only a mellow glow from the necklace of tourmalines, quaintly set, that lay upon the white lace of her gown.
She turned her face toward the fire as a flower seeks the sun, but her deep eyes looked beyond it, into the fires of Life itself. A haunting sense of unfulfilment stirred her to vague resentment, and she sighed as she rose and moved restlessly about the room. She lighted the tall candles that stood upon the mantel-shelf, straightened a rug, moved a chair, and gathered up a handful of fallen rose-petals on her way to the window. She was about to draw down the shade, but, instead, her hand dropped slowly to her side, her fingers unclasped, and the crushed crimson petals fluttered to the floor.
Outside, the purple dusk of Winter twilight lay soft upon the snow. Through an opening in the evergreens the far horizon, grey as mother-of- pearl, bent down to touch the plain in a misty line that was definite yet not clear. At the left were the mountains, cold and calm, veiled by distances dim with frost.
There was a step upon the stair, but the strong, straight figure in white lace did not turn away from the window, even when the door opened. The stillness was broken only by the cheerful crackle of the fire until a sweet voice asked:
"Are you dreaming, Rose?"
Rose turned away from the window then, with a laugh. "Why, I must have been. Will you have this chair, Aunt Francesca?"
She turned a high-backed rocker toward the fire and Madame Bernard leaned back luxuriously, stretching her tiny feet to the blaze. She wore grey satin slippers with high French heels and silver buckles. A bit of grey silk stocking was visible between the buckle and the hem of her grey gown.
Rose smiled at her in affectionate appreciation. The little old lady seemed like a bit of Dresden china; she was so dainty and so frail. Her hair was lustreless, snowy white, and beautifully, though simply, dressed in a bygone fashion. Her blue eyes were so deep in colour as to seem almost purple in certain lights, and the years had been kind to her, leaving few lines. Her hands, resting on the arms of her chair, had not lost their youthful contour, but around her eyes and the corners of her mouth were the faint prints of many smiles.
"Rose," said Madame Bernard, suddenly, "you are very lovely to-night."
"I was thinking the same of you," responded the younger woman, flushing."Shall we organise ourselves into a mutual admiration society?"
"We might as well, I think. There seems to be nobody else."
A shadow crossed Rose's face and her beauty took on an appealing wistfulness. She had been sheltered always and she hungered for Life as the sheltered often do. Madame Bernard, for the thousandth time, looked at her curiously. From the shapely foot that tapped restlessly on the rug beneath her white lace gown, to the crown of dusky hair with red- gold lights in it, Rose was made for love—and Madame wondered how she had happened to miss it.
"Aunt Francesca," said Rose, with a whimsical sadness, "do you realise that I'm forty to-day?"
"That's nothing," returned the other, serenely. "Everybody has been forty, or will be, if they live."
"I haven't lived yet," Rose objected....