"Nonsense," again said Mrs. Tresslyn, but this time with less confidence in her voice. She looked intently into her son's set face and fear was revived in her soul, an ever-present fear that slept and roused itself with sickening persistency.
"We'll hang her up in the family closet, if you don't mind, alongside of Brady Thorpe, and we'll never mention her again if I can help it. I must say, though, that our skeletons are uncommonly attractive, aren't they, Anne? No dry, rattling bones in our closets, are there?" He squeezed her arm playfully, and was amazed when she jerked it away.
"I was nice to you, George, and this is the way you—"
"Forgive me, please. I didn't mean it in an offensive way. I just took it for granted that we'd understand each other. At any rate, we've got one thing to be thankful for. There are no Wintermill skeletons hanging in our closets. We've both succeeded in dodging them, praise the Lord."
It so happened that Percy's excessively homely sister had been considered at one time as a most desirable helpmate for the rapidly developing George, and it is barely possible that the little mustard girl upset a social dynasty.
Mr. Thorpe was as good as his word. He arranged for the meeting between Braden and Anne, but with characteristic astuteness laid his plans so that they were to come upon each other unexpectedly. It happened on the second day after his talk with Braden.
Mr. Thorpe's plan involved other people as well as the two most vitally interested. There was to be a meeting at his house late in the afternoon for the purpose of signing the ante-nuptial contract already agreed upon. Five o'clock was the hour set for the gathering. Lawyers representing both parties were to be there, with Mrs. Tresslyn, George and Anne, and Mr. Thorpe's private secretary, who, with Dr. Bates, was to serve as a witness to the instrument.
At noon Wade delivered a letter to Miss Tresslyn in which Mr. Thorpe said that he would be pleased if she would accompany him to Tiffany's for the purpose of selecting a string of pearls. He made it quite clear that she was to go alone with him, playfully mentioning his desire to be the only witness to her confusion when confronted by the "obsequious salesman and his baubles from the sea." If quite agreeable to her he would make an appointment with the jeweller for 3.30 and would call for her in person. After that, he continued, the signing of a contract for life would not seem such a portentous undertaking, and they could go to the meeting with hearts as light as air. It was a cheerful, even gay little missive, but she was not for an instant blind to the irony that lay between the lines.
Anne selected the pearls that he had chosen in advance of their visit to Tiffany's. He did not tell her that he had instructed the jeweller to make up a string of pearls for her inspection, with the understanding that she was to choose for herself from an assortment of half-a-dozen beautiful offerings, no price to be mentioned. He was quite sure that she would not even consider the cost. He credited her with an honest scorn for sentimentality; she would make no effort to glorify him for an act that was so obviously a part of their unsentimental compact. There would be no gushing over this sardonic tribute to her avarice. She would have herself too well in hand for that.
They were about her neck when she entered the house near Washington Square almost an hour before the time appointed for the conference. In her secret but subdued pleasure over acquiring the costly present, she had lost all count of time. That was a part of Mr. Thorpe's expensive programme.
All the way down in the automobile she had been estimating the value of her new possession. On one point she was satisfied: there were few handsomer strings in New York than hers. She would have to keep them in a safe place,—a vault, no doubt. Nearly every matron of her acquaintance made a great deal of the fact that she had to buy a safe in which to store her treasures. There was something agreeable—subtly agreeable—in owning jewels that would have to be kept in one of those staunch, opulent looking safes. She experienced a thrill of satisfaction by describing herself in advance, as one of the women with pearls. And there was additional gratification in the knowledge that she could hardly be called a matron in the strict sense of the word. She was glad that she was too young for that. She tried to recall the names of all the women who possessed pearls like these, and the apparent though undeclared age of each. There was not one among them who was under forty. Most of them had endured many years of married life before acquiring what she was to have at the outset. Mrs. Wintermill, for instance: she was sixty-two or three, and had but recently come into a string of pearls not a whit more valuable than the one that now adorned her neck and lay hidden beneath the warm fur collar of her coat.
Her calculations suddenly hit upon something that could be used as a basis. Mrs. Wintermill's pearls had cost sixty-five thousand dollars. Sixty-five thousand dollars! She could not resist the impulse to shoot a swift, startled look out of the corners of her eyes at the silent old man beside her. That was a lot of money! And it was money that he was under no obligation to expend upon her. It was quite outside the contract. She was puzzled. Why this uncalled for generosity? A queer, sickening doubt assailed her.
"Are—are these pearls really and truly to be mine?" she asked. "Mine to keep forever?"
"Certainly, my dear," he said, looking at her so oddly that she flushed. He had read the thought that was in her mind. "I give and bequeath them to you this day, to have and to hold forever," he added, with a smile that she could not fail to understand.
"I wanted to be sure," she said, resorting to frankness.
When they entered the Thorpe home, Wade was waiting in the hall with the butler. His patient, set smile did not depart so much as the fraction of an inch from its habitual condition. His head was cocked a little to one side.
"Are we late, Wade?" inquired Mr. Thorpe.
"No, sir," said Wade. "No one has come." He glanced up at the tall clock on the landing. "It is a quarter past four, sir. Mrs. Tresslyn telephoned a few minutes ago, sir."
"Ah! That she would be late?"
"No, sir. To inquire if—ahem!—if Mr. Braden was likely to be here this afternoon."
Anne started violently. A quick, hunted expression leaped into her eyes as she looked about her. Something rushed up into her throat, something that smothered.
"You informed her, of course, that Mr. Braden declines to honour us with his presence," said Mr. Thorpe suavely.
"Yes, sir, in a way."
"Ahem! Well, my dear, make yourself quite at home. Go into the library, do. You'll find a roaring fire there. Murray, take Miss Tresslyn's coat. Make her comfortable. Come, Wade, your arm. Forgive me, Anne, if I leave you to yourself for a few minutes. My joy at having you here is shorn of its keenness by a long-established age that demands house-boots, an eider- down coat and—Murray, what the devil do you mean by letting the house get so cold as all this? It's like a barn. Are the furnaces out. What am I paying that rascally O'Toole for? Tell him to—"
"It is quite comfortable, Mr. Thorpe," said Anne, with a slight shiver that was not to be charged to the defective O'Toole.
The long, wide hall was dark and grim. Wade was dark and grim, and Murray too, despite his rotundity. There were lank shadows at the bottom of the hall, grim projections of objects that stood for ornamentation: a suit of armour, a gloomy candlestick of prodigious stature, and a thin Italian cabinet surmounted by an urn whose unexposed contents might readily have suggested something more sinister than the dust of antiquity. The door to the library was open. Fitful red shadows flashed dully from the fireplace across the room, creeping out into the hall and then darting back again as if afraid to venture. The waning sunlight struggled through a curtained window at the top of the stairs. There was dusk in the house. Evening had fallen there.
Anne stood in the middle of the library, divested of her warm fur coat. Murray was poking the fire, and cheerful flames were leaping upward in response to the call to wake. She had removed one of her gloves. With the slim, bared fingers she fondled the pearls about her neck, but her thoughts were not of baubles. She was thinking of this huge room full of shadows, shadows through which she would have to walk for many a day, where night would always be welcome because of the light it demanded.
It was a man's room. Everything in it was massive, substantial. Big chairs, wide lounges, and a thick soft carpet of dull red that deprived the footfall of its sound. Books mounted high,—almost to the ceiling,—filling all the spaces left unused by the doors and windows. Heavy damask curtains shut out the light of day. She wondered why they had been drawn so early, and whether they were always drawn like this. Near the big fireplace, with its long mantelpiece over which hung suspended the portrait of an early Knickerbocker gentleman with ruddy, even convivial countenance, stood a long table, a reading lamp at the farther end. Books, magazines, papers lay in disorder upon this table.
She recalled something that Braden once had told her: his grandfather always "raised Cain" with any one who happened to be guilty of what he called criminal orderliness in putting the table to rights. He wanted the papers and magazines left just as they were, so that he could put his hand upon them without demanding too much of a servant's powers of divination. More than one parlour-maid had been dismissed for offensive neatness.
She closed her eyes for a second. A faint line, as of pain, appeared between them. In this room Braden Thorpe had been coddled and scolded, in this room he had romped and studied—She opened her eyes quickly.
"Murray," she said, in a low voice; "you are quite sure that Mr. Braden is—is out?"
The old butler straightened up from his task, his hand going to his back as if to keep it from creaking. "Yes, Miss Tresslyn, quite sure." He hesitated for a moment. "I think he said that he intended to give himself the pleasure of a call—ahem! I beg pardon. Yes, he is quite out—I should say, I'm quite sure he is out." He was confused, a most unheard of thing in Murray.
"But he will return—soon?" She took a step or two nearer the door, possessed of a sudden impulse to run,—to run swiftly away.
"I think not, miss," said he. "He is not expected to be here during the—er—you might say, the—ahem!"
"I'll have a look about the room," said Anne softly. She felt that she was going to like Murray. She wanted him to like her. The butler may have caught the queer little note in her voice, or he may have seen the hunted look in her eyes before she turned them away. At any rate, he poked the fire vigorously once more. It was his way of saying that she might depend upon him. Then he went out of the room, closing the door behind him.
She started violently, and put her hand to her heart. She had the queer, uncanny feeling that she was locked in this sombre room, that she would never be free again.
In a room upstairs, Mr. Templeton Thorpe was saying to Wade:
"Is my grandson in his room?"
"Yes, sir. He came in at four and has been waiting for you, as you directed, sir."
"Tell him that I would like to see him at once in the library," said Mr. Thorpe.
"Yes, sir," said Wade, and for the first time in years his patient smile assumed the proportions of a grin. He did not have to be told that Anne's presence in the house was not to be made known to Braden. All that he was expected to do was to inform the young man that his grandfather wanted to see him in the library,—at once.
And so it came to pass that three minutes later, Braden and Anne were face to face with each other, and old Mr. Thorpe had redeemed his promise.
Of the two, Braden was the more surprised. The girl's misgivings had prepared her for just such a crisis as this. Something told her the instant she set foot inside the house that she was to be tricked. In a flash she realised that Mr. Thorpe himself was responsible for the encounter she had dreaded. It was impossible to suspect Braden of being a party to the scheme. He was petrified. There could be no doubt that he had been tricked quite as cleverly as she.
But what could have been in the old man's design? Was it a trap? Did he expect her to rush into Braden's arms? Was he lurking behind some near-by curtain to witness her surrender? Was he putting her to the test, or was it his grandson who was on trial?
Here was the supreme crisis in the life of Anne Tresslyn: the turning point. Her whole being cried out against this crafty trick. One word now from Braden would have altered the whole course of her life. In eager silence she stood on the thin edge of circumstance, ready to fall as the wind blew strongest. She was in revolt. If this stupefied, white-faced young man had but called out to her: "Anne! Anne, my darling! Come!" she would have laughed in triumph over the outcome of the old man's test, and all the years of her life would have been filled with sweetness. She would have gone to him.
But, alas, those were not the words that fell from his lips, and the fate of Anne Tresslyn was sealed as she stood there watching him with wide- spread eyes.
"I prefer to see you in your own home," he said, a flush of anger spreading over his face; "not here in my grandfather's house."
There was no mistaking his meaning. He thought she had come there to see him,—ay, conceivably had planned this very situation! She started. It was like a slap in the face. Then she breathed once more, and realised that she had not drawn a breath since he entered the room. Her life had been standing still, waiting till these few stupendous seconds were over. Now they were gone and she could take up life where it had left off. The tightness in her throat relaxed. The crisis was over, the turning point was behind her. He had failed her, and he would have to pay. He would have to pay with months, even years of waiting. For it had never occurred to Anne Tresslyn to doubt that he would come to her in good and proper time!
She could not speak at once. Her response was not ready. She was collecting herself. Given the time, she would rise above the mischief that confounded her. To have uttered the words that hung unuttered on her lips would have glorified him and brought shame to her pride forever more. Five words trembled there awaiting deliverance and they were good and honest words—"Take me back, Braden darling!" They were never spoken. They were formed to answer a different call from him. She checked them in time.
"I did not come here to see you," she said at last, standing very straight beside the table. He was just inside the door leading to the hall. "Whose trick is this,—yours or Mr. Thorpe's?"
Enlightenment flashed into his eyes. "By Jove!" he exclaimed. "He said he would do it, and he has made good. This is his way of—" He broke off in the middle of the sentence. In an instant he had whirled about and the door was closed with a bang.
She started forward, her hand pressed to her quick-beating heart, real fear in her eyes. What was in his mind? Was this insanity? She had read of men driven mad by disappointment who brutally set upon and killed—But he was facing her now, and she stopped short. His jaw was set but there was no insane light in the eyes that regarded her so steadily. Somehow—and suddenly—her composure was restored. She was not afraid of him. She was not afraid of the hands and arms that had caressed her so tenderly, nor was she afraid of the words that were to fall from the lips that had kissed hers so many times. He was merely going to plead with her, and she was well prepared for that.
For weeks and weeks she had been preparing herself for this unhappy moment. She knew that the time would come when she would have to face him and defend herself. She would have to deny the man she loved. She would have to tell him that she was going for a higher price than he could pay. The time had come and she was ready. The weakness of the minute before had passed—passed with his failure to strike when, with all her heart and soul, she wanted him to strike.
"You need not be frightened," he said, subduing his voice with an effort. "Let us take time to steady ourselves. We have a good deal to say to each other. Let's be careful not to waste words, now that we're face to face at last."
"I am quite calm," she said, stock-still beside the table. "Why should I be frightened? I am the last person in the world that you would strike, Braden." She was that sure of him!
"Strike? Good God, why should that have entered your head?"
"One never knows," she said. "I was startled. I was afraid—at first. You implied a moment ago that I had arranged for this meeting. Surely you understand that I—"
"My grandfather arranged it," he interrupted. "There's no use beating about the bush. I told him that I would not believe this thing of you unless I had it from your own lips. You would not see me. You were not permitted to see me. I told him that you were being forced into this horrible marriage, that your mother was afraid to let me have a single word with you. He laughed at me. He said that you were going into it with your eyes open, that you were obeying your mother willingly, that you—"
"Pardon me," she interrupted coldly. "Is your grandfather secreted somewhere near so that he may be able to enjoy the—"
"I don't know, and I don't care. Let him hear if he wants to. Why should either of us care? He knows all there is to know about you and he certainly appreciates my position. We may as well speak freely. It will not make the slightest difference, one way or the other, so far as he is concerned. He knows perfectly well that you are not marrying him for love, or respect, or even position. So let's speak plainly. I say that he arranged this meeting between us. He brought you here, and he sent upstairs for me to join him in this room. Well, you see he isn't here. We are quite alone. He is fair to both of us. He is giving me my chance and he is giving you yours. It only remains for us to settle the matter here and now. I know all of the details of this disgusting compact. I know that you are to have two million dollars settled upon you the day you are married—oh, I know the whole of it! Now, there's just one thing to be settled between you and me: are you going ahead with it or are you going to be an honest woman and marry the man you love?"
He did not leave her much to stand upon. She had expected him to go about it in an entirely different way. She had counted upon an impassioned plea for himself, not this terse, cold-blooded, almost unemotional summing up of the situation. For an instant she was at a loss. It was hard to look into his honest eyes. A queer, unformed doubt began to torment her, a doubt that grew into a question later on: was he still in love with her?
"And what if I do not care to discuss my private affairs with you?" she said, playing for time.
"Don't fence, Anne," he said sternly. "Answer the question. Wait. I'll put it in another form, and I want the truth. If you say to me that your mother is deliberately forcing you into this marriage I'll believe you, and I'll—I'll fight for you till I get you. I will not stand by and see you sacrificed, even though you may appear to—"
"Stop, please. If you mean to ask that question, I'll answer it in advance. It is I, not my mother, who expects to marry Mr. Thorpe, and I am quite old enough and wise enough to know my own mind. So you need not put the question."
He drew nearer. The table separated them as they looked squarely into each other's eyes through the fire-lit space that lay between.
"Anne, Anne!" he cried hoarsely. "You must not, you shall not do this unspeakable thing! For God's sake, girl, if you have an atom of self- respect, the slightest—"
"Don't begin that, Braden!" she cut in, ominously. "I cannot permit you or any man to say such things to me, no matter what you may think. Bear that in mind."
"Don't you mind what I think about it, Anne?" he cried, his voice breaking.
"See here, Braden," she said, in an abrupt, matter-of-fact manner, "it isn't going to do the least bit of good to argue the point. I am pledged to marry Mr. Thorpe and I shall do so if I live till the twenty-third of next month. Provided, of course, that he lives till that day himself. I have gone into it with my eyes open, as he says, and I am satisfied with my bargain. I suppose you will hate me to the end of your days. But if you think that I expect to hate myself, you are very much mistaken. Look! Do you see these pearls? They were not included in the bargain, and I could have gone on very well without them to the end of my term as the mistress of this house, but I accepted them from my fiance to-day in precisely the same spirit in which they were given: as alms to the undeserving. Your grandfather did not want me to marry you. He is merely paying me to keep my hands off. That's the long and the short of it. I am not in the least deceived. You will say that I could—and should have told him to go to the devil. Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you that I couldn't see my way clear to doing that. I hope he is listening behind the curtains. We drove a hard bargain. He thought he could get off with a million. You must remember that he had deliberately disinherited you,—that much I know. His will is made. It will not be altered. You will be a poor man as wealth is reckoned in these days. But you will be a great man. You will be famous, distinguished, honoured. That is what he intends. He set out to sacrifice me in order that you might be spared. You were not to have a millstone about your neck in the shape of a selfish, unsacrificing wife. What rot! From the bottom of my heart, Braden,—if you will grant me a heart,—I hope and pray that you may go to the head of your profession, that you may be a great and good man. I do not ask you to believe me when I say that I love you, and always—"
"For God's sake, don't ask me to believe it! Don't add to the degradation you are piling up for yourself. Spare yourself that miserable confession. It is quite unnecessary to lie to me, Anne."
"Lie? I am telling you the truth, Braden. I do love you. I can't help that, can I? You do not for an instant suspect that I love this doddering old man, do you? Well, I must love some one. That's natural, isn't it? Then, why shouldn't it be you? Oh, laugh if you will! It doesn't hurt me in the least. Curse me, if you like. I've made up my mind to go on with this business of marrying. We've had one unsuccessful marriage in our family of late. Love was at the bottom of it. You know how it has turned out, Braden. It—"
"I believe I know how it might have turned out if they had been left to themselves," said he bluntly.
"She would have been a millstone, nevertheless," she argued.
"I don't agree with you. George found his level in that little nobody, as you all have called her. Poor little thing, she was not so lucky as I. She did not have her eyes opened in time. She had no chance to escape. But we're not here to talk about Lutie Carnahan. I have told my grandfather that I intend to break this thing off if it is in my power to do so. I shall not give up until I know that you are actually married. It is a crime that must not—"
"How do you purpose breaking it off?" she inquired shrilly. Visions of a strong figure rising in the middle of the ceremony to cry out against the final words flashed into her mind. Would she have that to look forward to and dread?
"I shall go on appealing to your honour, your decency, your self-respect, if not to the love you say you bear for me."
She breathed easier. "And will you confine your appeals to me?"
"What do you mean?"
"I thought you might take it into your head to appeal to Mr. Thorpe's honour, decency, self-respect and love for you," she said, sullenly. "He is quite as guilty as I, remember."
"He has quite a different object in view. He seems to feel that he is doing me a good turn, not an evil one."
"Bosh!" She was angry. "And what will be your attitude toward me if you do succeed in preventing the marriage? Will you take me back as I was before this thing came up? Will you make me your wife, just as if nothing had happened? In view of my deliberate intention to deny you, will you forget everything and take me back?"
He put his hand to his throat, and for a moment appeared to be struggling against himself. "I will take you back, Anne, as if nothing had happened, if you will say to me here and now that you will marry me to-morrow."
She stared at him, incredulous. Her heart began to beat rapidly once more and the anger died away. "You would do that, knowing me to be what I am?"
"Knowing you to be what you were," he amended eagerly. "Oh, Anne, you are worth loving, you are pure of heart and—"
"If I will marry you to-morrow?" she went on, watching his face closely.
"Yes. But you must say it now—this instant. I will not grant you a moment's respite. If you do not say the word now, your chance is gone forever. It has to be now, Anne."
"And if I refuse—what then?"
"I would not marry you if you were the only woman on earth," he said flatly.
She smiled. "Are you sure that you love me, Braden?"
"I will love you when you become what you were,—a month ago," he said simply. "A girl worth the honour of being loved," he added.
"Men sometimes love those who are not worth the honour," she said, feeling her way. "They cannot help themselves."
"Will you say the word now?" he demanded hoarsely.
She sighed. It was a sigh of relief,—perhaps of triumph. He was safe for all time. He would come to her in the end. She was on solid ground once more.
"I am afraid, Braden, that I cannot play fast and loose with a man as old as Mr. Thorpe," she said lightly.
He muttered an oath. "Don't be a fool! What do you call your treatment of me? Fast and loose! Good Lord, haven't you played fast and loose with me?"
"Ah, but you are young and enduring," she said. "You will get over it. He wouldn't have the time or strength to recover from the shock of—"
"Oh, for God's sake, don't talk like that! What do you call yourself? What—" He checked the angry words and after a moment went on, more quietly: "Now, see here, Anne, I'm through parleying with you. I shall go on trying to prevent this marriage, but succeed or fail, I don't want to see your face again as long as I live. I'm through with you. You are like your mother. You are a damned vampire. God, how I have loved and trusted you, how I have believed in you. I did not believe that the woman lived who could degrade herself as you are about to degrade yourself. I have had my eyes opened. All my life I have loved you without even knowing you. All my life I—"
"All my life I have loved you," she broke in cringingly.
He laughed aloud. "The hell you have!" he cried out. "You have allowed me to hold you in my arms, to kiss you, to fondle you, and you have trembled with joy and passion,—and now you call it love! Love! You have never loved in your life and you never will. You call self-gratification by the name of love. Thank God, I know you at last. I ought to pity you. In all humanity I ought to pity a fellow creature so devoid of—"
"Stop!" she cried, her face flaming red. "Go! Go away! You have said enough. I will hate you if you utter another word, and I don't want to hate you, Braden. I want to go on loving you all my life. I must go on loving you."
"You have my consent," he said, ironically, bowing low before her. "Humanity compels me to grant you all the consolation you can find in deceiving yourself."
"Wait!" she cried out, as he turned toward the door. "I—I am hurt, Braden. Can't you see how you have hurt me? Won't you—"
"Of course, you are hurt!" he shouted. "You squeal when you are hurt. You think only of yourself when you cry 'I am hurt'! Don't you ever think of any one else?" His hand grasped the big silver door-knob.
"I want you to understand, if you can, why I am doing this thing you revile me for."
"I understand," he said curtly.
She hurried her words, fearful that he might rush from the room before she could utter the belated explanation.
"I don't want to be poor. I don't want to go through life as my mother has gone, always fighting for the things she most desired, always being behind the game she was forced to play. You can't understand,—you are too big and fine,—you cannot understand the little things, Braden. I want love and happiness, but I want the other, too. Don't you see that with all this money at my command I can be independent, I can be safe for all time, I can give more than myself in return for the love that I must have? Don't you understand why—"
She was quite close to him when he interrupted the impassioned appeal. His hand shook as he held it up to check her approach.
"It's all over, Anne. There is nothing more to be said. I understand everything now. May God forgive you," he said huskily.
She stopped short. Her head went up and defiance shone in her face.
"I'd rather have your forgiveness than God's," she said distinctly, "and since I may not ask for it now, I will wait for it, my friend. We love each other. Time mends a good many breaks. Good-bye! Some day I hope you'll come to see your poor old granny, and bring—"
"Oh, for the love of heaven, have a little decency, Anne," he cried, his lip curling.
But her pride was roused, it was in revolt against all of the finer instincts that struggled for expression.
"You'd better go now. Run upstairs and tell your grandfather that his scheme worked perfectly. Tell him everything I have said. He will not mind. I am sorry you will not remain to see the contract signed. I should like to have you for a witness. If you—"
"Contract? What contract?"
"Oh," she said lightly, "just a little agreement on his part to make life endurable for me while he continues to live. We are to sign the paper at five o'clock. Yes, you'd better run along, Braden, or you'll find yourself the centre of a perplexed crowd. Before you go, please take a last look at me in my sepulchre. Here I stand! Am I not fair to look upon?"
"God, I'd sooner see you in your grave than here," he grated out. "You'd be better off, a thousand times."
"This is my grave," she said, "or will be soon. I suppose I am not to count you among the mourners?"
He slammed the door behind him, and she was alone.
"How I hate people who slam doors," she said to herself.
A fortnight passed. Preparations for the wedding went on in the Tresslyn home with little or no slackening of the tension that had settled upon the inmates with the advent of the disturber. Anne was now sullenly determined that nothing should intervene to prevent the marriage, unless an unkind Providence ordered the death of Templeton Thorpe. She was bitter toward Braden. Down in her soul, she knew that he was justified in the stand he had taken, and in that knowledge lay the secret of her revolt against one of the commands of Nature. He had treated her with the scorn that she knew she deserved; he had pronounced judgment upon her, and she confessed to herself that she was guilty as charged. That was the worst of it; she could pronounce herself guilty, and yet resent the justice of her own decision.
In her desperation, she tried to hold old Mr. Thorpe responsible for the fresh canker that gnawed at her soul. But for that encounter in his library, she might have proceeded with confidence instead of the uneasiness that now attended her every step. She could not free herself of the fear that Braden might after all succeed in his efforts to persuade the old man to change his mind. True, the contract was signed, but contracts are not always sacred. They are made to be broken. Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination could this contract be looked upon as sacred and it certainly would not look pretty if exposed to a court of law. Her sole thought now was to have it all safely over with. Then perhaps she could smile once more.
In the home of the bridegroom, preparations for the event were scant and of a perfunctory nature. Mr. Templeton Thorpe ordered a new suit of clothes for himself—or, to be quite precise, he instructed Wade to order it. He was in need of a new suit anyway, he said, and he had put off ordering it for a long, long time, not because he was parsimonious but because he did not like going up town for the "try-on." He also had a new silk hat made from his special block, and he would doubtless be compelled to have his hair trimmed up a bit about the nineteenth or twentieth, if the weather turned a trifle warmer. Of course, there would be the trip to City Hall with Anne, for the licence. He would have to attend to that in person. That was one thing that Wade couldn't do for him. Wade bought the wedding-ring and saw to the engraving; he attended to the buying of a gift for the best man,—who under one of the phases of an all-enveloping irony was to be George Dexter Tresslyn!—and in the same expedition to the jewellers' purchased for himself a watch-fob as a self-selected gift from a master who had never given him anything in all his years of service except his monthly wage and a daily malediction.
Braden Thorpe made the supreme effort to save his grandfather. Believing himself to be completely cured of his desire for Anne, he took the stand that there was no longer a necessity for the old gentleman to sacrifice himself to the greed of the Tresslyns. But Mr. Thorpe refused to listen to this new and apparently unprejudiced argument. He was firm in his determination to clip Anne's claws; he would take no chances with youth, ultimate propinquity, and the wiles of a repentant sinner.
"You can guard against anything," said he in his wisdom, "except the beautiful woman who repents. You never can tell what she'll do to make her repentance satisfactory to everybody concerned. So we'll take no chances with Anne. We'll put her in irons, my boy, so to speak."
And so it was that Braden, worn and disspirited, gave up in despair and prepared for his return to London. He went before an examining board in New York first and obtained his licence to become a practising physician and surgeon, and, with a set expression in his disillusioned eyes, peered out into the future in quest of the fame that was to take the place of a young girl's love.
He met his first patient in the Knickerbocker Cafe. Lunching alone there one day, a week before the date selected for sailing, he was accosted by an extremely gay and pretty young woman who came over from a table of four in a distant corner of the room.
"Is this Dr. Braden Thorpe?" she inquired, placing her hands on the back of the chair opposite and leaning forward with a most agreeable, even inviting smile.
Her face was familiar. "Since day before yesterday," he replied, rising with a self-conscious flush.
"May I sit down? I want to talk to you about myself." She sat down in the chair that an alert waiter pulled out for her.
"I am afraid you are labouring under a misapprehension," he said. "I—I am not what you would call a practising physician as yet."
"Aren't you looking for patients?" she inquired. "Sit down, please."
"I haven't even an office, so why should I feel that I am entitled to a patient?" he said. "You see, I've just got my licence to practice. As things go, I shouldn't have a client for at least two years. Are you looking for a doctor?"
"I saw by the papers this morning that the grandson of Mr. Templeton Thorpe was a regular doctor. One of my friends over there pointed you out to me. What is your fee for an appendicitis operation, Dr. Thorpe?"
"Good—ahem! I beg your pardon. You really startled me. I—"
"Oh, that's all right. I quite understand. Hard to grasp at first, isn't it? Well, I've got to have my appendix out sooner or later. It's been bothering me for a year, off and on. Everybody tells me I ought to have it out sometime when it isn't bothering me and—"
"But, my dear young lady, I'm not the man you want. You ought to go to some—"
"You'll do just as well as any one, I'm sure. It's no trick to take out an appendix in these days. The fewer a doctor has snipped off, the less he charges, don't you know. So why shouldn't I, being quite poor, take advantage of your ignorance? The most intelligent surgeon in New York couldn't do any more than to snip it off, now could he? And he wouldn't be one-tenth as ignorant as you are about prices."
She was so gay and naive about it that he curbed his amazement, and, to some extent, his embarrassment.
"I suppose that it is also ignorance on my part that supplies me with office hours in a public restaurant from one to three o'clock," he said, with a very unprofessional grin.
"What hospital do you work in?" she demanded, in a business-like tone.
Humouring her, he mentioned one of the big hospitals in which he had served as an interne.
"That suits me," she said. "Can you do it to-morrow?"
"For heaven's sake, madam, I—are you in earnest?"
"Absolutely. I want to have it done right away. You see, I do a good deal of dancing, and—now, listen!" She leaned farther across the table, a serious little line appearing between her brows. "I want you to do it because I've always heard that you are one of the most earnest, capable and ambitious young men in the business. I'd sooner trust you than any one else, Dr. Thorpe. It has to be done by some one, so if I'm willing to take a chance with you, why shouldn't you take one with me?"
"I have been in Europe for nearly three years. How could you possibly have heard all this about me?"
"See that fellow over there facing us? The funny little chap with the baby moustache? He—"
"Why, it's Simmy Dodge," cried Braden. "Are—are you—"
"Just a friend, that's all. He's one of the finest chaps in New York. He's a gentleman. That's Mr. and Mrs. Rumsey Fenn,—the other two, I mean. You can't see them for the florist shop in between. They know you too, so—"
"May I inquire why one of my friends did not bring you over and introduce me to you, Miss—er—"
"Miss, in a sort of way, Doctor, but still a Missus," she said amiably. "Well, I told them that I knew you quite well and I wouldn't let them come over. It's all right, though. We'll be partially related to each other by marriage before long, I understand; so it's all right. You see, I am Mrs. George Dexter Tresslyn."
"You—you are?" he gasped. "By Jove, I thought that your face was familiar. I—"
"One of the best advertised faces in New York about two years ago," she said, and he detected a plaintive note in the flippant remark. "Not so well-known nowadays, thank God. See here, Dr. Thorpe, I hope you won't think it out of place for me to congratulate you."
"Congratulate me? My dear Mrs. Tresslyn, it is not I who am to be married. You confuse me with—"
"I'm congratulating you because you're not the one," said she, her eyes narrowing. "Bless your soul, I know what I'm talking about. But say no more. Let's get back to the appendix. Will you do the job for me?"
"Now that we are acquainted with each other," he said, suppressing a natural excitement, "may we not go over and join Simmy and the Fenns? Don't you think you'd better consult with them before irrevocably committing yourself to me?"
"Fine! We'll talk it over together, the whole lot of us. But, I say, don't forget that I've known you for years—through the family, of course. I want to thank you first for one thing, Dr. Thorpe. George used to tell me how you took my part in the—the smash-up. He said you wrote to him from Europe to be a man and stand by me in spite of everything. That's really what I've been wanting to say to you, more than the other. Still, I've got to have it out, so come on. Let's set a day. Mrs. Fenn will go up to the hospital with me. She's used to hospitals. Says she loves them. She's trying her best to have Mr. Fenn go in next week to have his out. She's had five operations and a baby. I'm awfully glad to know you, Dr. Thorpe. I've always wanted to. I'd like better than anything I know of to be your first regular patient. It will always be something to boast about in years to come. It will be splendid to say to people, 'Oh, yes, I am the first person that ever had her appendix removed by the celebrated Dr. Thorpe.' It will—"
"But I have removed a great many," he said, carried away by her sprightly good humour. "In my training days, so to speak."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," she cried, disappointed. Then her face brightened: "Still, I suppose you had to learn just where the thing is. It wouldn't do to go about stabbing people in the wrong place, just as if the appendix might be any little old where, would it?"
"I should say not," said he, arising and bowing very profoundly. Then he followed close behind her trim, smart figure as they threaded their way among the tables.
So this was the "pretty little mustard girl" that all fashionable New York had talked about in the past and was dancing with in the present. This was the girl who refused to go to the dogs at the earnest behest of the redoubtable Mrs. Tresslyn. Somehow he felt that Fate had provided him with an unexpected pal!
And, to his utter astonishment, he was prevailed upon to perform the operation! The Fenns and Simeon Dodge decided the matter for him.
"I shall have to give up sailing next week," he said, as pleased as Punch but contriving to project a wry face. "I can't go away and leave my first bona-fide patient until she is entirely out of the woods."
"I have engagements for to-morrow and Wednesday," said Mrs. Rumsey Fenn, after reflection. She was a rather pallid woman of thirty-five who might have been accused of being bored with life if she had not made so many successful efforts to prolong it.
"It doesn't happen to be your appendix, my dear," said her husband.
"Goodness, I wish it were," said she, regretfully. "What I mean is that I can't go to the hospital with Lutie before,—let me see,—before Thursday. Can you wait that long, dear?"
"Ask Dr. Thorpe," said young Mrs. Tresslyn. "He is my doctor, you know."
"Of course, you all understand that I cannot go ahead and perform an operation without first determining—"
"Don't you worry," said the patient. "My physician has been after me for a year to have it out. He'll back me up. I'll telephone him as soon as I get back home, and I'll have him call you up, Dr. Thorpe. Thanks ever so much. And, before I forget it, what is the fee to be? You see, I pay my own bills, so I've got to know the—the worst."
"My fee will be even more reasonable than you hope, Mrs. Tresslyn," said Braden, smiling. "Just guess at the amount you'd feel able to pay and then divide it by two, and you'll have it."
"Dear me," cried Mrs. Fenn, "how perfectly satisfactory! Rumsey, you must have yours out this week. You're always talking about not being able to afford things, and here's a chance to save money in a way you never would have suspected."
"Good Lord, Madge," exclaimed her husband, "I've never had a pain in my life. I wish you wouldn't keep nagging at me all the time to have an operation performed, whether I need it or not. Let my appendix alone. It's always treated me with extreme loyalty and respect, so why the deuce should I turn upon the poor thing and assassinate it?"
"See here, Rumsey," said Simmy Dodge sagely, "if I were in your place I'd have a perfectly sound tooth pulled some time, just to keep it from aching when you're an old man. Or you might have your left leg amputated so that it couldn't be crushed in a railroad accident. You ought to do something to please Madge, old chap. She's been a thoughtful, devoted wife to you for twelve or thirteen years, and what have you ever done to please her? Nothing! You've never so much as had a crick in your neck or a pain that you couldn't account for, so do be generous, Rumsey. Besides, maybe you haven't got an appendix at all. Just think how you could crow over her if they couldn't find one, even after the most careful and relentless search over your entire system."
"She's always wanting me to die or something like that," growled Fenn; "but when I talked of going to the Spanish War she went into hysterics."
"We'd only been married a month, Rumsey," said his wife reproachfully.
"But how could I have known that war was to be declared so soon?" he demanded.
Braden and Simeon Dodge left the restaurant together. They were old friends, college-mates, and of the same age. Dodge had gone into the law- school after his academic course, and Thorpe into the medical college. Their ways did not part, however. Both were looked upon as heirs to huge fortunes, and to both was offered the rather doubtful popularity that usually is granted to affluence. Thorpe accepted his share with the caution of the wise man, while Dodge, not a whit less capable, took his as a philanderer. He now had an office in a big down-town building, but he never went near it except when his partner took it into his head to go away for a month's vacation at the slack season of the year. At such periods Mr. Dodge, being ages younger than the junior member of the firm, made it his practice to go down to the office and attend to the business with an earnestness that surprised every one. He gave over frolicking and stuck resolutely to the "knitting" that Johnson had left behind. Possessed of a natural though thrifty intelligence,—one that wasted little in public,—and a latent energy that could lift him occasionally above a perfectly normal laziness, he made as much of his opportunities as one could expect of a young man who has two hundred thousand a year and an amiable disposition.
No one in the city was more popular than Simmy Dodge, and no one more deservedly so, for his bad qualities were never so bad that one need hesitate about calling him a good fellow. His habits were easy but genteel. When intoxicated he never smashed things, and when sober,—which was his common condition,—he took extremely good care of other people's reputations. Women liked him, which should not be surprising; and men liked him because he was not to be spoiled by the women who liked him, which is saying a great deal for an indolent young man with money. He had a smile that always appeared at its best in the morning, and survived the day with amazing endurance. And that also is saying a great deal for a young man who is favoured by both sexes and a supposedly neutral Dame Fortune at the same time. He had broken many of the laws of man and some of those imposed by God, but he always paid without apology. He was inevitably pardoned by man and paroled by his Maker,—which is as much as to say that he led a pretty decent sort of existence and enjoyed exceedingly good health.
He really wasn't much to look at. Being a trifle under medium height, weighing less than one hundred and twenty pounds stripped, as wiry as a cat and as indefatigable as a Scotch terrier, and with an abnormally large pair of ears that stood out like oyster shells from the sides of a round, sleek head, he made no pretentions to physical splendour,—unless, by chance, you would call the perky little straw-coloured moustache that adorned his long upper lip a tribute to vanity. His eyes were blue and merry and set wide apart under a bulging, intellectual looking forehead, and his teeth were large and as white as snow. When he laughed the world laughed with him, and when he tried to appear downcast the laughter went on just the same, for then he was more amusing than ever.
"I didn't know you were a friend of hers," said he as they stood in front of the hotel waiting for the taxi that was to take Thorpe to a hospital.
Thorpe remembered the admonition. "I tried to put a little back-bone into George Tresslyn at the time of the rumpus, if that's what you'd call being a friend to her," he said evasively.
"She's a nice little girl," said Simmy, "and she's been darned badly treated. Mrs. Tresslyn has never gotten over the fact that Lutie made her pay handsomely to get the noble Georgie back into the smart set. Plucky little beggar, too. Lot of people like the Fenns and the Roush girls have taken her up, primarily, I suppose, because the Tresslyns threw her down. She's making good with them, too, after a fashion all her own. Must be something fine in a girl like that, Brady,—I mean something worth while. Straight as a string, and a long way from being a disgrace to the name of Tresslyn. Quaint, isn't she?"
"Amazingly so. I think George would marry her all over again if she'd have him, mother or no mother."
"Well, she's quaint in another respect," said Dodge. "She still considers herself to be George Tresslyn's wife."
"Not a bit of it. She just says she is, that's all, and what God joined together no woman can put asunder. She means Mrs. Tresslyn, of course. By the way, Brady, I wonder if I'm still enough of a pal to be allowed to say something to you." The blue eyes were serious and there was a sort of caressing note in his voice.
"We've always been pals, Simmy."
"Well, it's just this: I'm darned sorry things have turned out as they have for you. It's a rotten shame. Why don't you choke that old grandparent of yours? Put him out of his misery. Anne has told me of your diabolical designs upon the hopelessly afflicted. She used to talk about it for hours while you were in London,—and I had to listen with shivers running up and down my back all the time. Nobody on earth could blame you for putting the quietus on old Templeton Thorpe. He is about as hopelessly afflicted as any one I know,—begging your pardon for treading on the family toes."
"He's quite sane, Simmy," said Braden, with a smile that was meant to be pleasant but fell short of the mark.
"He's an infernal old traitor, then," said Simmy hotly. "I wouldn't treat a dog as he has treated you,—no kind of a dog, mind you. Not even a Pekinese, and I hate 'em worse than snakes. What the devil does Anne mean? Lordy, Lordy, man, she's always been in love with you. She—but, forgive me, old chap, I oughtn't to run on like this. I didn't mean to open a sore—"
"It's all right, Simmy. I understand. Thanks, old boy. It was a pretty stiff blow, but—well, I'm still on my pins, as you see."
Dodge was hanging onto the door of the taxi, impeding his friend's departure. "She's too fine a girl to be doing a rotten thing like this. I don't mind telling you I've always been in—er—that is, I've always had a tender spot for Anne. I suppose you know that?"
"I know that, Simmy."
"Hang it all, I never dreamed that she'd look at any one else but you, so I never even peeped a word to her about my own feelings. And here she goes, throwing you over like a shot, and spilling everything. Confound it, man, if I'd thought she could possibly want to marry anybody else but you, I'd have had my try. The good Lord knows I'm not much, but by thunder, I'm not decrepit. I—I suppose it was the money, eh?"
"That's for you to say, Simmy; certainly not for me."
"If it's money she's after and not an Adonis, I don't see why the deuce she didn't advertise. I would have answered in a minute. I can't help saying it, old man, but I feel sorry for Anne, 'pon my soul, I do. I don't think she's doing this of her own free will. See what her mother did to George and that little girl in there? I tell you there's something nasty and—"
"I may as well tell you that Anne is doing this thing of her own free will," said Braden gravely.
"I don't believe it," said Dodge.
"At any rate, Simmy, I'm grateful to you for standing clear while there was still a chance for me. So long! I must be getting up to the hospital, and then around to see her doctor."
"So long, Brady. See you on Thursday." He meant, good soul, that he would be at the hospital on that day.
An hour later, Mr. Simeon Dodge appeared at the home of Anne Tresslyn. In place of his usual care-free manner there now rested upon him an air of extreme gravity. This late afternoon visit was the result of an inspiration. After leaving Thorpe he found himself deeply buried in reflection which amounted almost to abstraction. He was disturbed by the persistency of the thoughts that nagged at him, no matter whither his aimless footsteps carried him. For the life of him, he could not put from his mind the conviction that Anne Tresslyn was not responsible for her actions.
He was convinced that she had been bullied, cowed, coerced, or whatever you like, into this atrocious marriage, and, of course, there could be no one to blame but her soulless mother. The girl ought to be saved. (These are Simmy's thoughts.) She was being sacrificed to the greed of an unnatural mother. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that she was no longer in love with Braden Thorpe, there still remained the positive conviction that she could not be in love with any one else, and certainly not with that treacherous old man in Washington Square. That, of course, was utterly impossible, so there was but the one alternative: she was being forced into a marriage that would bring the most money into the hands of the designing and, to him, clearly unnatural parent.
He knew nothing of the ante-nuptial settlement, nor was he aware of the old man's quixotic design in coming between Braden and the girl he loved. To Simmy it was nothing short of brigandage, a sort of moral outlawry. Old Templeton Thorpe deserved a coat of tar and feathers, and there was no word for the punishment that ought to be meted out to Mrs. Tresslyn. He tried to think of what ought to be done to her, and, getting as far as boiling oil, gave up in despair, for even that was too much like compassion.
Money! The whole beastly business was money! He thought of his own unestimated wealth. Nothing but money,—horrible, insensate, devastating money! He shuddered as he thought of what his money was likely to bring to him in the end: a loveless wife; avarice in place of respect; misery instead of joy; destruction! How was he ever to know whether a girl was marrying him for himself or for the right to lay hands upon the money his father had left to him when he died? How can any rich man know what he is getting into when he permits a girl to come into his home? To burglarise it with the sanction of State and Church, perhaps, and to escape with the connivance of both after she's got all she wants. That's where the poor man has an advantage over the unprotected rich: he is never confronted by a problem like this. He doesn't have to stop and wonder why the woman marries him. He knows it's love, or stupidity, or morality, but it is never duplicity.
Before he got through with it, Simmy had worked himself into a state of desperation. Regarding himself with unprejudiced eyes he saw that he was not the sort of man a girl would choose for a husband unless he had something besides a happy, loving disposition to offer. She would marry him for his money, of course; certainly he would be the last to suspect her of marrying him for his beauty. He had never thought of it in this light before, and he was wet with the sweat of anguish. He could never be sure! He could love a woman with all his heart and soul, and still never be sure of her! Were all the girls he had loved in his college days—But here he stopped. It was too terrible to even contemplate, this unmerited popularity of his! If only one of them had been honest enough to make fun of his ears, or to snicker when he became impassioned, or to smile contemptuously from her superior height when he asked her to dance,—if only one of them had turned her back upon him, then he would have grasped the unwelcome truth about himself. But, now that he thought of it, not one of them had ever turned a deaf ear to his cajoleries, not one had failed to respond to his blandishments, not one had been sincere enough to frown upon him when he tried to be witty. And that brought him to another sickening standstill: was he as bright and clever and witty as people made him out to be? Wasn't he a dreadful bore, a blithering ass, after all? He felt himself turning cold to the marrow as he thought of the real value that people placed upon him. He even tried to recall a single thing that he had ever said that he could now, in sober judgment, regard as bright or even fairly clever. He couldn't, so then, after all, it was quite clear that he was tolerated because he had nothing but money.
Just as he was about to retire from his club where he had gone for solace, an inspiration was born. It sent him forthwith to Anne Tresslyn's home, dogged, determined and manfully disillusioned.
"Miss Tresslyn is very busy, Mr. Dodge," said Rawson, "but she says she will see you, sir, if you will wait a few moments."
"I'll wait," said Simmy, and sat down.
He had come to the remarkable conclusion that as long as some one had to marry him for his money it might as well be Anne. He was fond of her and he could at least spare her the ignominy and horror of being wedded to old Templeton Thorpe. With his friend Braden admittedly out of the running, there was no just cause why he should not at least have a try at saving Anne. She might jump at the chance. He was already blaming himself for not having recognised her peril, her dire necessity, long before this. And since he had reached the dismal conclusion that no one could possibly love him, it would be the sensible thing on his part to at least marry some one whom he loved, thereby securing, in a way, half of a bargain when he might otherwise have to put up with nothing at all. At any rate, he would be doing Anne a good turn by marrying her, and it was reasonably certain that she would not bring him any more unhappiness than any other woman who might accept him.
As he sat there waiting for her he began to classify his financial holdings, putting certain railroads and industrials into class one, others into class two, and so on to the best of his ability to recollect what really comprised his fortune. It was rather a hopeless task, for to save his life he could not remember whether he had Lake Shore stock or West Shore stock, and he did not know what Standard Oil was selling at, nor any of the bank stocks except the Fifth Avenue, which seldom went below forty- five hundred. There might be a very awkward situation, too, if he couldn't justify his proposal with facts instead of conjectures. Suppose that she came out point blank and asked him what he was worth: what could he say? But then, of course, she wouldn't have to ask such a question. If she considered it possible to marry him, she would know how much he was worth without inquiring. As a matter of fact, she probably knew to a dollar, and that was a great deal more than he knew.
Half an hour passed before she came down. She was wearing her hat and was buttoning her gloves as she came hurriedly into the room. Simmy had a startling impression that he had seen a great many women putting on their gloves as they came into rooms where he was waiting. The significance of this extraordinary custom had never struck him with full force before. In the gloom of his present appraisal of himself, he now realised with shocking distinctness that the women he called upon were always on the point of going somewhere else.
"Hello, Simmy," cried Anne gaily. He had never seen her looking more beautiful. There was real colour in her smooth cheeks and the sparkle of enthusiasm in her big, dark eyes.
He shook hands with her. "Hello," he said.
"I can spare you just twenty minutes, Simmy," she said, peering at the little French clock on the mantelpiece with the frankest sort of calculation. "Going to the dressmaker's at five, you know. It's a great business, this getting married, Simmy. You ought to try it."
"I know I ought," said he, pulling a chair up close to hers. "That's what I came to see you about, Anne."
She gave a little shriek of wonder. "For heaven's sake, Simmy, don't tell me that you are going to be married. I can't believe it."
He made note of the emphasis she put upon the pronoun, and secretly resented it.
"Depends entirely on you, Anne," he said. He looked over his shoulder to see if any one was within the sound of his voice, which he took the precaution to lower to what had always been a successful tone in days when he was considered quite an excellent purveyor of sweet nothings in dim hallways, shady nooks and unpopulated stairways. "I want you to marry me right away," he went on, but not with that amazing confidence of yester- years.
Anne blinked. Then she drew back and stared at him for a moment. A merry smile followed her brief inspection.
"Simmy, you've been drinking."
He scowled, and at that she laughed aloud. "'Pon my soul, not more than three, Anne. I rarely drink in the middle of the day. Almost never, I swear to you. Confound it, why should you say I've been drinking? Can't I be serious without being accused of drunkenness? What the devil do you mean, Anne, by intimating that I—"
"Don't explode, Simmy," she cried. "I wasn't intimating a thing. I was positively asserting it. But go on, please. You interest me. Don't try to look injured, Simmy. You can't manage it at all."
"I didn't come here to be insulted," he growled.
"Did you come here to insult me?" she inquired, the smile suddenly leaving her eyes.
"Good Lord, no!" he gasped. "Only I don't like what you said a minute ago. I never was more serious or more sober in my life. You've been proposed to a hundred times, I suppose, and I'll bet I'm the only one you've ever accused of drinking at the time. It's just my luck. I—"
"What in the world are you trying to get at, Simmy Dodge?" she cried. "Are you really asking me to marry you?"
"Certainly," he said, far from mollified.
She leaned back in the chair and regarded him in silence for a moment. "Is it possible that you have not heard that I am to be married this month?" she asked, and there was something like pity in her manner.
"Heard it? Of course, I've heard it. Everybody's heard it. That's just what I've come to see you about. To talk the whole thing over. To see if we can't do something. Now, there is a way out of it, dear girl. It may not be the best way in the world but it's infinitely—"
"Are you crazy?" she cried, staring at him in alarm.
"See here, Anne," he said gently, "I am your friend. It will not make any difference to you if I tell you that I love you, that I've loved you for years. It's true nevertheless. I'm glad that I've at last had the courage to tell you. Still I suppose it's immaterial. I've come up here this afternoon to ask you to be my wife. I don't ask you to say that you love me. I don't want to put you in such a position as that. I know you don't love me, but—"
"Simmy! Oh, Simmy!" she cried out, a hysterical laugh in her throat that died suddenly in a strange, choking way. She was looking at him now with wide, comprehending eyes.
"I can't bear to see you married to that old man, Anne," he went on. "It is too awful for words. You are one of the most perfect of God's creations. You shall not be sacrificed on this damned altar of—I beg your pardon, I did not mean to begin by accusing any one of deliberately forcing you into—into—" He broke off and pulled fiercely at his little moustache.
"I see now," she said presently. "You are willing to sacrifice yourself in order that I may be spared. Is that it?"
"It isn't precisely a sacrifice. At least, it isn't quite the same sort of sacrifice that goes with your case as it now stands. In this instance, one of us at least is moved by a feeling of love;—in the other, there is no love at all. If you will take me, Anne, you will get a man who adores you for yourself. Isn't there something in that? I can give you everything that old man Thorpe can give, with love thrown in. I understand the situation. You are not marrying that old man because you love him. There's something back of it all that you can't tell me, and I shall not ask you to do so. But listen, dear; I'm decent, I'm honest, I'm young and I'm rich. I can give you everything that money will buy. Good Lord, I wish I could remember just what I've got to offer you in the way of—But, never mind now. If you'd like it, I'll have my secretary make out a complete list of—"
"So you think I am marrying Mr. Thorpe for his money,—is that it, Simmy dear?" she asked.
"I know it," said he promptly. "That is, you are marrying him because some one else—ahem! You can't expect me to believe that you love the old codger."
"No, I can't expect that of any one. Thank you, Simmy. I think I understand. You really want to—to save me. Isn't that so?"
"I do, Anne, God knows I do," he said fervently. "It's the most beastly, diabolical—"
"You have been fair with me, Simmy," she broke in seriously, "so I'll be fair with you. I am marrying Mr. Thorpe for his money. I ought to be ashamed to confess it openly in this way, but I'm not. Every one knows just why I am going into this thing, and every one is putting the blame upon my mother. She is not wholly to blame. I am not being driven into it. It's in the blood of us. We are that kind. We are a bad lot, Simmy, we women of the breed. It goes a long way back, and we're all alike. Don't ask me to say anything more, dear old boy. I'm just a rotter, so let it go at that."
"You're nothing of the sort," he exclaimed, seizing her hand. "You're nothing of the sort!"
"Oh, yes, I am," she said wearily.
"See here, Anne," he said earnestly, "why not take me? If it's a matter of money, and nothing else, why not take me? That's what I mean. That's just what I wanted to explain to you. Think it over, Anne. For heaven's sake, don't go on with the other thing. Chuck it all and—take me. I won't bother you much. You can have all the money you need—and more, if you ask for it. Hang it all, I'll settle a stipulated amount upon you before we take another step. A million, two millions,—I don't care a hang,—only don't spoil this bright, splendid young life of yours by—Oh, Lordy, it's incomprehensible!"
She patted the back of his hand, gently, even tremblingly. Her eyes were very bright and very solemn.
"It has to go on now, Simmy," she said at last.
For a long time they were silent.
"I hope you have got completely over your love for Braden Thorpe," he said. "But, of course, you have. You don't care for him any more. You couldn't care for him and go on with this. It wouldn't be human, you know."
"No, it wouldn't be human," she said, her face rigid.
He was staring intently at the floor. Something vague yet sure was forming in his brain, something that grew to comprehension before he spoke.
"By Jove, Anne," he muttered, "I am beginning to understand. You wouldn't marry a young man for his money. It has to be an old man, an incredibly old man. I see!"
"I would not marry a young man, Simmy, for anything but love," she said simply. "I would not live for years with a man unless I loved him, be he poor or rich. Now you have it, my friend. I'm a pretty bad one, eh?"
"No, siree! I'd say it speaks mighty well for you," he cried enthusiastically. His whimsical smile returned and the points of his little moustache went up once more. "Just think of waiting for a golden wedding anniversary with a duffer like me! By Jove, I can see the horror of that myself. You just couldn't do it. I get your idea perfectly, Anne. Would it interest you if I were to promise to be extremely reckless with my life? You see, I'm always taking chances with my automobiles. Had three or four bad smash-ups already, and one broken arm. I could be a little more reckless and very careless if you think it would help. I've never had typhoid or pneumonia. I could go about exposing myself to all sorts of things after a year or two. Flying machines, too, and long distance swimming. I might even try to swim the English Channel. North Pole expeditions, African wild game hunts,—all that sort of thing, Anne. I'll promise to do everything in my power to make life as short as possible, if you'll only—"
"Oh, Simmy, you are killing," she cried, laughing through her tears. "I shall always adore you."
"That's what they all say. Well, I've done my best, Anne. If you'll run away with me to-night, or to-morrow, or any time before the twenty-third, I'll be the happiest man in the world. You can call me up any time,—at the club or at my apartment. I'll be ready. Think it over. Good-bye. I wish I could wish you good luck in this other—but, of course, you couldn't expect that. We're a queer lot, all of us. I've always had a sneaking suspicion that if my mother had married the man she was truly in love with, I'd be a much better-looking chap than I am to-day."
She was standing beside him at the door, nearly a head taller than he.
"Or," she amended with a dainty grimace, "you might be a very beautiful girl, and that would be dreadful."
The day before the wedding, little Mrs. George Dexter Tresslyn, satisfactorily shorn of her appendix and on the rapid road to recovery that is traveled only by the perfectly healthy of mankind, confided to her doctor that the mystery of the daily bunch of roses was solved. They represented the interest and attention of her ex-husband, and, while they were unaccompanied by a single word from him, they also signified devotion.
"Which means that he is still making love to you?" said Thorpe, with mock severity.
"Clandestinely," said she, with a lovely blush and a curious softening of her eyes. She was wondering how this big, strong friend of hers would take the information, and how far she could go in her confidences without adventuring upon forbidden territory. Would he close the gates in the wall that guarded his own opinions of the common foe, or would he let her inside long enough for a joint discussion of the condition that confronted both of them: the Tresslyn nakedness? "He has been inquiring about me twice a day by telephone, Doctor, and this morning he was down stairs. My night nurse knows him by sight. He was here at half-past seven. That's very early for George, believe me. This hospital is a long way from where he lives. I would say that he got up at six or half-past, wouldn't you?"
"If he went to bed at all," said Thorpe, with a grim smile.
"Anyhow, it proves something, doesn't it?" she persisted.
"Obviously. He is still in love with you, if that's what you want me to say."
"That's just what I wanted you to say," she cried, her eyes sparkling. "Poor George! He's a dear, and I don't care who hears me say it. If he'd had any kind of a chance at all we wouldn't be—Oh, well, what's the use talking about it?" She sighed deeply.
Braden watched her flushed, drawn face with frowning eyes. He realised that she had suffered long in silence, that her heart had been wrung in the bitter stretches of a thousand nights despite the gay indifference of the thousand days that lay between them. For nearly three years she had kept alive the hungry thing that gnawed at her heart and would not be denied. He was sorry for her. She was better than most of the women he knew in one respect if in no other: she was steadfast. She had made a bargain and it was not her fault that it was not binding. He had but little pity for George Tresslyn. The little he had was due to the belief that if the boy had been older he would have fought a better fight for the girl. As she lay there now, propped up against the pillows, he could not help contrasting her with the splendid, high-bred daughter of Constance Tresslyn. That she was a high-minded, honest, God-fearing girl he could not for an instant doubt, but that she lacked the—there is but one word for it—class of the Tresslyn women he could not but feel as well as see. There was a distinct line between them, a line that it would take generations to cross. Still, she was a loyal, warm-hearted enduring creature, and by qualities such as these she mounted to a much higher plane than Anne Tresslyn could ever hope to attain, despite her position on the opposite side of the line. He had never seen George's wife in anything but a blithe, confident mood; she was an unbeaten little warrior who kept her colours flying in the face of a despot called Fate. In fact, she was worthy of a better man than young Tresslyn, worthy of the steel of a nobler foe than his mother.
He was eager to comfort her. "It is pretty fine of George, sending you these flowers every day. I am getting a new light on him. Has he ever suggested to you in any way the possibility of—of—well, you know what I mean?"
"Fixing it up again between us?" she supplied, an eager light in her eyes. "No, never, Dr. Thorpe. He has never spoken to me, never written a line to me. That's fine of him too. He loves me, I'm sure of it, and he wants me, but it is fine of him not to bother me, now isn't it? He knows he could drag me back into the muddle, he knows he could make a fool of me, and yet he will not take that advantage of me."
"Would you go back to him if he asked you to do so?"
"I suppose so," she sighed. Then brightly: "So, you see, I shall refuse to see him if he ever comes to plead. That's the only way. We must go our separate ways, as decreed. I am his wife but I must not so far forget myself as to think that he is my husband. I know, Dr. Thorpe, that if we had been left alone, we could have managed somehow. He was young, but so was I. I am not quite impossible, am I? Don't these friends of yours like me, don't they find something worth while in me? If I were as common, as undesirable as Mrs. Tresslyn would have me to be, why do people of your kind like me,—take me up, as the saying is? I know that I don't really belong, I know I'm not just what they are, but I'm not so awfully hopeless, now am I? Isn't Mrs. Fenn a nice woman? Doesn't she go about in the smart set?"
She appeared to be pleading with him. He smiled.
"Mrs. Fenn is a very nice woman and a very smart one," he said. "You have many exceedingly nice women among your friends. So be of good cheer, if that signifies anything to you." He was chaffing her in his most amiable way.
"It signifies a lot," she said seriously. "By rights, I suppose, I should have gone to the devil. That's what was expected of me, you know. When I took all that money from Mrs. Tresslyn, it wasn't for the purpose of beating my way to the devil as fast as I could. I took it for an entirely different reason: to put myself where I could tell other people to go to him if I felt so inclined. I took it so that I could make of myself, if possible, the sort of woman that George Tresslyn might have married without stirring up a row in the family. I've taken good care of all that money. It is well invested. I manage to live and dress on the income. Rather decent of me, isn't it? Surprisingly decent, you might say, eh?"
"Surprisingly," he agreed, smiling.
"What George Tresslyn needs, Dr. Thorpe, is something to work for, something to make work an object to him. What has he got to work for now? Nothing, absolutely nothing. He's merely keeping up appearances, and he'll never get anywhere in God's world until he finds out that it's a waste of time working for a living that's already provided for him."
Thorpe was impressed by this quaint philosophy. "Would you, in your wisdom, mind telling me just what you think George would be capable of doing in order to earn a living for two people instead of one?"
She looked at him in surprise. "Why, isn't he big and strong and hasn't he a brain and a pair of hands? What more can a man require in this little old age? A big, strapping fellow doesn't have to sit down and say 'What in heaven's name am I to do with these things that God has given me?' Doesn't a blacksmith earn enough for ten sometimes, and how about the carpenter, the joiner and the man who brings the ice? Didn't I earn a living up to the time I burnt my fingers and had to be pensioned for dishonourable service? It didn't take much strength or intelligence to demonstrate mustard, did it? And you sit there and ask me what George is capable of doing! Why, he could do anything if he had to."
"You are really a very wonderful person," said he, with conviction. "I believe you could have made a man of George if you'd had the chance."
She looked down. "I suppose the world thinks I made him what he is now, so what's the use speculating? Let's talk about you for awhile. Miss McKane won't be back for a few minutes, so let's chat some more. Didn't I hear you tell her yesterday that you expect to leave for London about the first?"
"If you are up and about," said he.
She hesitated, a slight frown on her brow. "Do you know that you are pale and tired-looking, Dr. Thorpe? Have you looked in the glass at yourself lately?"
"Regularly," he said, forcing a smile. "I shave once a day, and I—"
"I'm serious. You don't look happy. You may confide in me, Doctor. I think you ought to talk to some one about it. Are you still in love with Miss Tresslyn? Is that what's taking the colour out—"
"I am not in love with Miss Tresslyn," he said, meeting her gaze steadily. "That is all over. I will confess that I have been dreadfully hurt, terribly shocked. A man doesn't get over such things easily or quickly. I will not pretend that I am happy. So, if that explains my appearance to you, Mrs. Tresslyn, we'll say no more about it."
Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, I'm sorry if I've—if I've meddled,—if I've been too—"
"Don't worry," he broke in quickly. "I don't in the least mind. In fact, I'm glad you gave me the opportunity to say in so many words that I do not love her. I've never said it before. I'm glad that I have said it. It helps, after all."
"You'll be happy yet," she sniffled. "I know you will. The world is full of good, noble women, and there's one somewhere who will make you glad that this thing has happened to you. Now, we'll change the subject. Miss McKane may pop in at any moment, you know. Have you any new patients?"
He smiled again. "No. You are my sole and only, Mrs. Fenn can't persuade Rumsey to have a thing done to him, and Simmy Dodge refuses to break his neck for scientific purposes, so I've given up hope. I shall take no more cases. In a year I may come back from London and then I'll go snooping about for nice little persons like you who—"
"Simmy Dodge says you are not living at your grandfather's house any longer," she broke, irrelevantly.
"I am at a hotel," he said, and no more.
"I see," she said, frowning very darkly for her.
He studied her face for a moment, and then arose from the chair beside her bed. "You may be interested to hear that while I am invited to attend the wedding to-morrow afternoon I shall not be there," he said, divining her thoughts.
"I didn't like to ask," she said. The nurse came into the room. "He says I'm doing as well as could be expected, Miss McKane," she said glibly, "and if nothing unforeseen happens I'll be dodging automobiles in Fifth Avenue inside of two weeks. Good-bye, Doctor."
"Good-bye. I'll look in to-morrow—afternoon," he said.
* * * * *
The marriage of Anne Tresslyn and Templeton Thorpe took place at the home of the bridegroom at four o'clock on the afternoon of the twenty-third. A departure from the original plans was made imperative at the eleventh hour by the fact that Mr. Thorpe had been quite ill during the night. His condition was in no sense alarming, but the doctors announced that a postponement of the wedding was unavoidable unless the ceremony could be held in the Thorpe home instead of at Mrs. Tresslyn's as originally planned. Moreover, the already heavily curtailed list of guests would have to be narrowed to even smaller proportions. The presence of so many as the score of selected guests might prove to be hazardous in view of the old gentleman's state of nerves, not to say health. Mr. Thorpe was able to be up and about with the aid of the imperturbable Wade, but he was exceedingly irascible and hard to manage. He was annoyed with Braden. When the strange illness came early in the night, he sent out for his grandson. He wanted him to be there if anything serious was to result from the stroke,—he persisted in calling it a stroke, scornfully describing his attack as a "rush of blood to the head from a heart that had been squeezed too severely by old Father Time." Braden was not to be found. What annoyed Mr. Thorpe most was the young man's unaccountable disposition to desert him in his hour of need. In his querulous tirade, he described his grandson over and over again as an ingrate, a traitor, a good-for-nothing without the slightest notion of what an obligation means.
He did not know, and was not to know for many days, that his grandson had purposely left town with the determination not to return until the ill- mated couple were well on their way to the Southland, where the ludicrous honeymoon was to be spent. And so it was that the old family doctor had to be called in to take charge of Mr. Thorpe in place of the youngster on whom he had spent so much money and of whom he expected such great and glorious things.
He would not listen to a word concerning a postponement. Miss Tresslyn was called up on the telephone by Wade at eight o'clock in the morning, and notified of the distressing situation. What was to be done? At first no one seemed to know what could be done, and there was a tremendous flurry that for the time being threatened to deprive Mr. Thorpe of a mother-in- law before the time set for her to actually become one. Doctors were summoned to revive the prostrated Mrs. Tresslyn. She went all to pieces, according to reports from the servants' hall. In an hour's time, however, she was herself once more, and then it was discovered that a postponement was the last thing in the world to be considered in a crisis of such magnitude. Hasty notes were despatched hither and thither; caterers and guests alike were shunted off with scant ceremony; chauffeurs were commandeered and motors confiscated; everybody was rushing about in systematic confusion, and no one paused to question the commands of the distracted lady who rose sublimely to the situation. So promptly and effectually was order substituted for chaos that when the clock in Mr. Thorpe's drawing-room struck the hour of four, exactly ten people were there and two of them were facing a minister of the gospel,—one in an arm chair with pillows surrounding him, the other standing tall and slim and as white as the driven snow beside him....
Late that night, Mr. George Tresslyn came upon Simmy Dodge in the buffet at the Plaza.
"Well, you missed it," he said thickly. His high hat was set far back on his head and his face was flushed.
"Come over here in the corner," said Simmy, with discernment, "and for heaven's sake don't talk above a whisper."
"Whisper?" said George, annoyed. "What do I want to whisper for? I don't want to whisper, Simmy. I never whisper. I hate to hear people whisper. I refuse to whisper to anybody."
Simmy took him by the arm and led him to a table in a corner remote from others that were occupied.
"Maybe you'd rather go for a drive in the Park," he said engagingly.
"Nonsense! I've been driven all day, Simmy. I don't want to be driven any more. I'm tired, that's what's the matter with me. Dog-tired, understand? Have a drink? Here, boy!"
"Thanks, George, I don't care for a drink. No, not for me, thank you. Strictly on the wagon, you know. Better let it alone yourself. Take my advice, George. You're not a drinking man and you can't stand it."
George glowered at him for a moment, and then let his eyes fall. "Guess you're right, Simmy. I've had enough. Never mind, waiter. First time I've been like this in a mighty long time, Simmy. But don't think I'm celebrating, because I ain't. I'm drowning something, that's all." He was almost in tears by this time. "I can't help thinking about her standin' there beside that old—Oh, Lord! I can't talk about it."
"That's right," said Simmy, persuasively. "I wouldn't if I were you. Come along with me. I'll walk home with you, George. A good night's rest will put—"
"Rest? My God, Simmy, I'm never going to rest again, not even in my grave. Say, do you know who I blame for all this business? Do you?"
"I won't shoosh! I blame myself. I am to blame and no one else. If I'd been any kind of a man I'd have put my foot down—just like that—and stopped the thing. That's what I'd have done if I'd been a man, Simmy. And instead of stoppin' it, do you know what I did? I went down there and stood up with old Thorpe as his best man. Can you beat that? His best man! My God! Wait a minute. See, he was sittin' just like you are—lean back a little and drop your chin—and I was standing right here, see—on this side of him. Just like this. And over here was Anne—oh, Lord! And here was Katherine Browne,—best maid, you know,—I mean maid of honour. Standin' just like this, d'you see? And then right in front here was the preacher. Say, where do all these preachers come from? I've never seen that feller in all my life, and still they say he's an old friend of the family. Fine business for a preacher to be in, wasn't it? Fi-ine bus-i-ness! He ought to have been ashamed of himself. By Gosh, come to think of it, I believe he was worse than I. He might have got out of it if he'd tried. He looked like a regular man, and I'm nothing but a fish-worm."
"Not so loud, George, for heaven's sake. You don't want all these men in here to—"
"Right you are, Simmy, right you are. I'm one of the fellers that talks louder than anybody else and thinks he's as big as George Washington because he's got a bass voice." He lowered his voice to a hoarse, raucous whisper and went on. "And mother stood over there, see,—right about where that cuspidor is,—and looked at the preacher all the time. Watchin' to see that he kept his face straight, I suppose. Couple of old rummies standin' back there where that table is, all dressed up in Prince Alberts and shaved within an inch of their lives. Lawyers, I heard afterwards. Old Mrs. Browne and Doc. Bates stood just behind me. Now you have it, just as it was. Curtains all down and electric lights going full blast. It wouldn't have been so bad if the lights had been out. Couldn't have seen old Tempy, for one thing, and Anne's face for another. I'll never forget Anne's face." His own face was now as white as chalk and convulsed with genuine emotion.
Simmy was troubled. There was that about George Tresslyn that suggested a subsequent catastrophe. He was in no mood to be left to himself. There was the despairing look of the man who kills in his eyes, but who kills only himself.
"See here, George, let's drop it now. Don't go on like this. Come along, do. Come to my rooms and I'll make you comfortable for the—"
But George was not through with his account of the wedding. He straightened up and, gritting his teeth, went on with the story. "Then there were the responses, Simmy,—the same that we had, Lutie and I,—just the same, only they sounded queer and awful and strange to-day. Only young people ought to get married, Simmy. It doesn't seem so rotten when young people lie like that to each other. Before I really knew what had happened the preacher had pronounced them husband and wife, and there I stood like a block of marble and held my peace when he asked if any one knew of a just cause why they shouldn't be joined in holy wedlock. I never even opened my lips. Then everybody rushed up and congratulated Anne! And kissed her, and made all sorts of horrible noises over her. And then what do you think happened? Old Tempy up and practically ordered everybody out of the house. Said he was tired and wanted to be left alone. 'Good-bye,' he said, just like that, right in our faces—right in mother's face, and the preacher's, and old Mrs. Browne's. You could have heard a pin drop. 'Good-bye,' that's what he said, and then, will you believe it, he turned to one of the pie-faced lawyers and said to him: 'Will you turn over that package to my wife, Mr. Hollenback?' and then he says to that man of his: 'Wade, be good enough to hand Mr. Tresslyn the little acknowledgment for his services?' Then and there, that lawyer gave Anne a thick envelope and Wade gave me a little box,—a little bit of a box that I wish I'd kept to bury the old skinflint in. It would be just about his size. I had it in my vest pocket for awhile. 'Wade, your arm,' says he, and then with what he probably intended to be a sweet smile for Anne, he got to his feet and went out of the room, holding his side and bending over just as if he was having a devil of time to keep from laughing out loud. I heard the doctor say something about a pain there, but I didn't pay much attention. What do you think of that? Got right up and left his guests, his bride and everybody standing there like a lot of goops. His bride, mind you. I'm dead sure that so-called stroke of his was all a bluff. He just put one over on us, that's all. Wasn't any more sick than I am. Didn't you hear about the stroke? Stroke of luck, I'd call it. And say, what do you think he gave me as a little acknowledgment for my services? Look! Feast your eyes upon it!" He turned back the lapel of his coat and fumbled for a moment before extracting from the cloth a very ordinary looking scarf-pin, a small aqua-marine surrounded by a narrow rim of pearls. "Great, isn't it? Magnificent tribute! You could get a dozen of 'em for fifty dollars. That's what I got for being best man at my sister's funeral, and, by God, it's more than I deserved at that. He had me sized up properly, I'll say that for him."
He bowed his head dejectedly, his lips working in a sort of spasmodic silence. Dodge eyed him with a curious, new-born commiseration. The boy's self-abasement, his misery, his flouting of his own weakness were not altogether the result of maudlin reaction. He presented a combination of manliness and effectiveness that perplexed and irritated Simeon Dodge. He did not want to feel sorry for him and yet he could not help doing so. George's broad shoulders and splendid chest were heaving under the strain of a genuine, real emotion. Drink was not responsible for his present estimate of himself; it had merely opened the gates to expression.
Simmy's scrutiny took in the fine, powerful body of this incompetent giant,—for he was a giant to Simmy,—and out of his appraisal grew a fresh complaint against the Force that fashions men with such cruel inconsistency. What would not he perform if he were fashioned like this splendid being? Why had God given to George Tresslyn all this strength and beauty, to waste and abuse, when He might have divided His gifts with a kindlier hand? To what heights of attainment in all the enterprises of man would not he have mounted if Nature had but given to him the shell that George Tresslyn occupied? And why should Nature have put an incompetent, useless dweller into such a splendid house when he would have got on just as well or better perhaps in an insignificant body like his own? Proportions were wrong, outrageously wrong, grieved Simmy as he studied the man who despised the strength God had given him. And down in his honest, despairing soul, Simmy Dodge was saying to himself that he would cheerfully give all of his wealth, all of his intelligence, all of his prospects, in exchange for a physical body like George Tresslyn's. He would court poverty for the privilege of enjoying other triumphs along the road to happiness.
"Why don't you say something?" demanded George, suddenly looking up. "Call me whatever you please, Simmy; I'll not resent it. Hang it all, I'll let you kick me if you want to. Wouldn't you like to, Simmy?"
"Lord love you, no, my boy," cried the other, reaching out and laying a hand on George's shoulder. "See here, George, there's a great deal more to you than you suspect. You've got everything that a man ought to have except one thing, and you can get that if you make up your mind to go after it."
"What's that?" said George, vaguely interested.
"Independence," said Simmy. "Do you know what I'd do if I had that body and brain of yours?"
"Yes," said George promptly. "You'd go out and lick the world, Simmy, because you're that kind of a feller. You've got character, you have. You've got self-respect, and ideals, and nerve. I ought to have been put into your body and you into mine."