And then there was another reason for not wanting to enter the service of Dr. Braden Thorpe. Suppose he were to become critically ill. Would he, in that event, feel at liberty to call in an outside doctor to take charge of his case? Would it not be natural for Dr. Braden to attend him? And suppose that Dr. Braden were to conclude that he couldn't get well!
He gave notice to Murray, the butler. He hated to do this, for he despised Murray. The butler would not have to go. He too had been with Mr. Thorpe for more than a quarter of a century, and death had not robbed him of a situation. What manner of justice was it that permitted Murray to go on being useful while he had to go out into the world and become a burden to himself?
"Murray informs me, Wade, that you have given notice," said Anne, looking up as he shuffled into an attitude before her. "He says that you have saved quite a lot of money and are therefore independent. I am happy to hear that you are in a position to spend the remainder of your life in ease and—why, what is the matter, Wade?"
He was very pale, and swayed slightly. "If you please, madam, Murray is mistaken," he mumbled. An idea was forming in his unhappy brain. "I—I am leaving because I realise that you no longer have any use for my services, and not because I am—er—well off, as the saying is. I shall try to get another place." His mind was clear now. The idea was completely formed. "Of course, it will be no easy matter to find a place at my age, but,—well, a man must live, you know." He straightened up a bit, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
She was puzzled. "But you have money, Wade. You have worked hard. You have earned a good rest. Why should you go on slaving for other people?"
"Alas," said Wade, resuming the patient smile that had been missing for days and cocking his head a little, "it is not for me to rest. Murray does not know everything. My savings are small. He does not know the uses to which I have been obliged to—I beg pardon, madam, you cannot, of course, be interested in my poor affairs." He was very humble.
"But Mr. Thorpe always spoke of you as an exceedingly thrifty man. I am sure that he believed you to be comfortably fixed for life, Wade."
"Quite so," agreed Wade. "And I should have been had it been possible to lay by with all these unmentioned obligations crowding upon me, year in, year out."
"Your family? I did not know that there was any one dependent upon you."
"I have never spoken of my affairs, ma'am," said Wade. "It is not for a servant to trouble his employer with—ahem! You understand, I am sure."
"Perfectly. I am sorry."
"So I thought I would give notice at once, madam, so that I might be on the lookout as soon as possible for a new place. You see, I shall soon be too old to apply for a place, whilst if I manage to secure one in time I may be allowed to stay on in spite of my age."
"Have you anything in view?"
"Nothing, madam. I am quite at a loss where to—"
"Take all the time you like, Wade," she said, genuinely sorry for the man. She never had liked him. He was the one man in all the world who might have pitied her for the mistake she had made, and he had steeled his heart against her. She knew that he felt nothing but scorn for her, and yet she was sorry for him. This was new proof to her that she had misjudged her own heart. It was a softer thing than she had supposed. "Stay on here until you find something satisfactory. Mr. Thorpe would have wished you to stay. You were a very faithful friend to him, Wade. He set great store by you."
"Thank you, madam. You are very kind. Of course, I shall strive to make myself useful while I remain. I dare say Murray can find something for me to do. Temporarily, at least, I might undertake the duties of the furnace man and handy-man about the house. He is leaving to-morrow, I hear. If you will be so good as to tell Murray that I am to take O'Toole's place,—temporarily, of course,—I shall be very grateful. It will give me time to collect my thoughts, ma'am."
"It will not be necessary, Wade, for you to take on O'Toole's work. I am not asking you to perform hard, manual labor. You must not feel that my—"
"Pardon me, madam," interrupted he; "I very much prefer to do some sort of regular work, if I may be permitted."
She smiled. "You will find Murray a hard task-master, I am afraid."
He took a long breath, as of relief—or could it have been pleasure? "I quite understand that, madam. He is a martinet. Still, I shall not mind." The same thought was in the mind of each: he was accustomed to serving a hard task-master. "If you don't mind, I shall take O'Toole's place until you find some one else. To-morrow I shall move my belongings from the room upstairs to O'Toole's room off the furnace-room. Thank—"
"No!" she exclaimed. "You are not to do that. Keep your old room, Wade. I—I cannot allow you to go down there. Mr. Thorpe would never forgive me if he knew that—" He lifted his eyes at the sudden pause and saw that she was very white. Was she too afraid of ghosts?
"It's very good of you," he said after a moment. "I shall do as you wish in everything, and I shall let you know the instant I find another place." He cleared his throat. "I fear, madam, that in the confusion of the past few days I have failed to express to you my sympathy. I assure you the oversight was not—"
She was looking straight into his eyes. "Thank you, Wade," she interrupted coldly. "Your own grief would be sufficient excuse, if any were necessary. If you will send Murray to me I will tell him that you have withdrawn your notice and will stay on in O'Toole's place. It will not be necessary for him to engage another furnace-man at present."
"No, ma'am," said Wade, and then added without a trace of irony in his voice: "At any rate not until cold weather sets in."
And so it was that this man solved the greatest problem that had ever confronted him. He went down into the cellars to take orders from the man he hated, from the man who would snarl at him and curse him and humiliate him to the bitter end, and all because he knew that he could not begin life over again. He wanted to be ordered about, he wanted to be snarled at by an overbearing task-master. It simplified everything. He would never be called upon to think for himself. Thorpe or Murray, what mattered which of them was in command? It was all the same to him. His dignity passed, away with the passing of his career as a "Man," and he rejoiced in the belief that he had successfully evaded the responsibilities that threatened him up to the moment he entered the presence of the mistress of the house. He was no longer without a purpose in life. He would not have to go out and be independent.
Toward the end of the second week Templeton Thorpe's will was read by Judge Hollenback in the presence of "the family." There had been some delay on account of Braden Thorpe's absence from the city. No one knew where he had gone, nor was he ever to explain his sudden departure immediately after the funeral. He simply disappeared from his hotel, without so much as a bag or a change of linen in his possession, so far as one could know. At the end of ten days he returned as suddenly and as casually as he had gone away, but very much improved in appearance. The strange pallor had left his cheeks and his eyes had lost the heavy, tired expression.
At first he flatly refused to go down for the reading of the will. He was not a beneficiary under the new instrument and he could see no reason for his attendance. Anne alone understood. The old vow not to enter the house while she was its mistress,—that was the reason. He was now in a position to revive that vow and to order his actions accordingly.
She drooped a little at the thought of it. From time to time she caught herself wishing that she could devise some means of punishing him, only to berate herself afterward for the selfishness that inspired the thought.
Still, why shouldn't he come there now? She was the same now that she was before her marriage took place,—a year older, that was all, but no less desirable. That was the one thing she could not understand in him. She could understand his disgust, his scorn, his rage, but she could not see how it was possible for him to hold out against the qualities that had made him love her so deeply before she gave him cause to hate her.
As for the operation that had resulted in the death of her husband, Anne had but one way of looking at it. Braden had been forced to operate against his will, against his best judgment. He was to be pitied. His grandfather had failed in his attempt to corrupt the souls of others in his desire for peace, and there remained but the one cowardly alternative: the appeal to this man who loved him. In his extremity, he had put upon Braden the task of performing a miracle, knowing full well that its accomplishment was impossible, that failure was as inevitable as death itself.
The thought never entered her mind that in persuading Braden to perform this strange act of mercy her husband may have been moved by the sole desire to put the final touch to the barrier he had wrought between them. The fact that Braden was responsible for his death had no sinister meaning for her. It was the same as if he had operated upon a total stranger with a like result and with perhaps identical motives.
She kept on saying to herself that she had given up hope of ever regaining the love she had lost. She tried to remember just when she had ceased to hope. Was it before or after that last conversation took place in the library? Hope may have died, but he was alive and she was alive. Then how could love be dead?
It was Simmy Dodge who prevailed upon Braden to be present at the reading of the will. Simmy was the sort of man who goes about, in the goodness of his heart, adjusting matters for other people. He constituted himself in this instance, however, as the legal adviser of his old friend and companion, and that gave him a certain amount of authority.
"And what's more," he said in arguing with the obdurate Braden, "we'll probably have to smash the will, if, as you say, you have been cut off without a nickel. You—"
"But I don't want to smash it," protested Braden.
"And why not?" demanded Simmy, in surprise. "You are his only blood relation, aren't you? Why the deuce should he leave everything away from you? Of course we'll make a fight for it. I've never heard of a more outrageous piece of—"
"You don't understand, Simmy," Braden interrupted, suddenly realising that his position would be a difficult one to explain, even to this good and loyal friend. "We'll drop the matter for the present, at any rate."
"But why should Mr. Thorpe have done this rotten, inconceivable thing to you, Brady?" demanded Dodge. "Good Lord, that will won't stand a minute in a court of—"
"It will stand so far as I'm concerned," said Braden sharply, and Simmy blinked his eyes in bewilderment.
"You wouldn't be fighting Anne, you know," he ventured after a moment, assuming that Braden's attitude was due to reluctance in that direction. "She is provided for outside the will, she tells me."
"Are you her attorney, Simmy?"
"Yes. That is, the firm represents her, and I'm one of the firm."
"I don't see how you can represent both of us, old chap."
"That's just what I'm trying to get into your head. I couldn't represent you if there was to be a fight with Anne. But we can fight these idiotic charities, can't we?"
"No," said Braden flatly. "My grandfather's will is to stand just as it is, Simmy. I shall not contest for a cent. And so, if you please, there's no reason for my going down there to listen to the reading of the thing. I know pretty well what the document says. I was in Mr. Thorpe's confidence. For your own edification, Simmy, I'll merely say that I have already had my share of the estate, and I'm satisfied."
"Still, in common decency, you ought to go down and listen to the reading of the will. Judge Hollenback says he will put the thing off until you are present, so you might as well go first as last. Be reasonable, Brady. I know how you feel toward Anne. I can appreciate your unwillingness to go to her house after what happened a year ago. Judge Hollenback declares that his letter of instruction from Mr. Thorpe makes it obligatory for him to read the document in the presence of his widow and his grandson, and in the library of his late home. Otherwise, the thing could have been done in Hollenback's offices."
In the end Braden agreed to be present.
When Judge Hollenback smoothed out the far from voluminous looking document, readjusted his nose glasses and cleared his throat preparatory to reading, the following persons were seated in the big, fire-lit library: Anne Thorpe, the widow; Braden Thorpe, the grandson; Mrs. Tresslyn, George Tresslyn, Simmy Dodge, Murray, and Wade, the furnace-man. The two Tresslyns were there by Anne's request. Late in the day she was overcome by the thought of sitting there alone while Braden was being dispossessed of all that rightfully belonged to him. She had not intended to ask her mother to come down for the reading. Somehow she had felt that Mrs. Tresslyn's presence would indicate the consummation of a project that had something ignoble about it. She knew that her mother could experience no other sensation than that of curiosity in listening to the will. Her interest in the affairs of Templeton Thorpe ended with the signing of the ante-nuptial contract, supplemented of course by the event which satisfactorily terminated the agreement inside of a twelve-month. But Anne, practically alone in the world as she now found herself to be, was suddenly aware of a great sense of depression. She wanted her mother. She wanted some one near who would not look at her with scornful, bitter eyes.
George's presence is to be quickly explained. He had spent the better part of the week with Anne, sleeping in the house at her behest. For a week she had braved it out alone. Then came the sudden surrender to dread, terror, loneliness. The shadows in the halls were grim; the sounds in the night were sinister, the stillness that followed them creepy; the servants were things that stalked her, and she was afraid—mortally afraid in this home that was not hers. She had made up her mind to go away for a long time just as soon as everything was settled.
As for the furnace-man, Judge Hollenback had summoned him on his arrival at the house. So readily had Wade adapted himself to his new duties that he now felt extremely uncomfortable and ill-at-ease in a room that had been like home to him for thirty years. He seemed to feel that this was no place for the furnace-man, notwithstanding the scouring and polishing process that temporarily had restored him to a more exalted office,—for once more he was the smug, impeccable valet.
Braden was the last to arrive. He timed his arrival so that there could be no possibility of an informal encounter with Anne. She came forward and shook hands with him, simply, unaffectedly.
"You have been away," she said, looking straight into his eyes. He was conscious of a feeling of relief. He had been living in some dread of what he might detect in her eyes. But it was a serene, frank expression that he found in them, not a question.
"Yes," he said. "I was tired," he added after a moment.
She hesitated. Then: "I have not seen you, Braden, since—since the twenty- first. You have not given me the opportunity to tell you that I know you did all that any one could possibly do for Mr. Thorpe. Thank you for undertaking the impossible. I am sorry—oh, so sorry,—that you were made to suffer. I want you to remember too that it was with my sanction that you made the hopeless effort."
He turned cold. The others had heard every word. She had spoken without reserve, without the slightest indication of nervousness or compunction. The very thing that he feared had come to pass. She had put herself definitely on record. He glanced quickly about, searching the faces of the other occupants of the room. His gaze fell upon Wade, and rested for a second or two. Something told him that Wade's gaze would shift,—and it did.
"I did everything, Anne. Thank you for believing in me." That was all. No word of sympathy, no mawkish mumbling of regret, no allusion to his own loss. He looked again into her eyes, this time in quest of the motive that urged her to make this unnecessary declaration. Was there a deeper significance to be attached to her readiness to assume responsibility? He looked for the light in her eye that would convince him that she was taking this stand because of the love she felt for him. He was immeasurably relieved to find no secret message there. She had not stooped to that, and he was gratified. Her eyes were clouded with concern for him, that was all. He was ashamed of himself for the thought,—and afterwards he wondered why he should have been ashamed. After all, it was only right that she should be sorry for him. He deserved that much from her.
An awkward silence ensued. Simmy Dodge coughed nervously, and then Braden advanced to greet Mrs. Tresslyn. She did not rise. Her gloved hand was extended and he took it without hesitation.
"It is good to see you again, Braden," she said, with the bland, perfunctory parting of the lips that stands for a smile with women of her class. He meant nothing to her now.
"Thanks," he said, and moved on to George, who regarded him with some intensity for a moment and then gripped his hand heartily. "How are you, George?"
"Fine! First stage of regeneration, you know. I'm glad to see you, Brady."
There was such warmth in the repressed tones that Thorpe's hand clasp tightened. Tresslyn was still a friend. His interest quickened into a keen examination of the young man who had pronounced himself in the first stage of regeneration, whatever that may have signified to one of George's type. He was startled by the haggard, sick look in the young fellow's face. George must have read the other's expression, for he said: "I'm all right,—just a little run down. That's natural, I suppose."
"He has a dreadful cold," said Anne, who had overheard. "I can't get him to do anything for it."
"Don't you worry about me, Anne," said George stoutly.
"Just the same, you should take care of yourself," said Braden. "Pneumonia gets after you big fellows, you know. How are you, Wade? Poor old Wade, you must miss my grandfather terribly. You knew him before I was born. It seems an age, now that I think of it in that way."
"Thirty-three years, sir," said Wade. "Nearly ten years longer than Murray, Mr. Braden, It does seem an age."
The will was not a lengthy document. The reading took no more than three minutes, and for another full minute after its conclusion, not a person in the room uttered a word. A sort of stupefaction held them all in its grip,—that is, all except the old lawyer who was putting away his glasses and waiting for the outburst that was sure to follow.
In the first place, Mr. Thorpe remembered Anne. After declaring that she had been satisfactorily provided for in a previous document, known to her as a contract, he bequeathed to her the house in which she had lived for a single year with him. All of its contents went with this bequest. To Josiah Wade he left the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, to Edward Murray ten thousand dollars, and to each of the remaining servants in his household a sum equal to half of their earnings while in his service. There were bequests to his lawyer, his doctor and his secretary, besides substantial gifts to persons who could not by any chance have expected anything from this grim old man,—such as the friendly doorman at his favourite club, and the man who had been delivering newspapers to him for a score of years or more, and the old negro bootblack who had attended him at the Brevoort in the days before the Italian monopoly set in, and the two working-girls who supported the invalid widow of a man who had gone to prison and died there after having robbed the Thorpe estate of a great many thousands of dollars while acting as a confidential and trusted agent.
Then came the astounding disposition of the fortune that had accumulated in the time of Templeton Thorpe. There were no bequests outright to charity, contrary to all expectations. The listeners were prepared to hear of huge gifts to certain institutions and societies known to have been favoured by the testator. Various hospitals were looked upon as sure to receive splendid endowments, and specific colleges devoted to the advancement of medical and surgical science were also regarded as inevitable beneficiaries. It was all cut and dried, so far as Judge Hollenback's auditors were concerned,—that is to say, prior to the reading of the will. True, the old lawyer had declared in the beginning, that the present will was drawn and signed on the afternoon of the day before the death of Mr. Thorpe, and that a previous instrument to which a codicil had been affixed was destroyed in the presence of two witnesses. The instrument witnessed by Wade and Murray was the one that had been destroyed. This should have aroused uneasiness in the mind of Braden Thorpe, if no one else, but he was slow to recognise the significance of the change in his grandfather's designs.
With his customary terseness, Templeton Thorpe declared himself to be hopelessly ill but of sound mind at the moment of drawing his last will and testament, and suffering beyond all human endurance. His condition at that moment, and for weeks beforehand, was such that death offered the only panacea. He had come to appreciate the curse of a life prolonged beyond reason. Therefore, in full possession of all his faculties and being now irrevocably converted to the principles of mercy advocated by his beloved grandson, Braden Lanier Thorpe, he placed the residue of his estate in trust, naming the aforesaid Braden Lanier Thorpe as sole trustee, without bond, the entire amount to be utilised and expended by him in the promotion of his noble and humane propaganda in relation to the fate of the hopelessly afflicted among those creatures fashioned after the image of God. The trust was to expire with the death of the said Braden Lanier Thorpe, when all funds remaining unused for the purposes herein set forth were to go without restriction to the heirs of the said trustee, either by bequest or administration.
In so many words, the testator rested in his grandson full power and authority to use these funds, amounting to nearly six million dollars, as he saw fit in the effort to obtain for the human sufferer the same mercy that is extended to the beast of the field, and to make final disposition of the estate in his own will. Realising the present hopelessness of an attempt to secure legislation of this character, he suggested that first of all it would be imperative to prepare the way to such an end by creating in the minds of all the peoples of the world a state of common sense that could successfully combat and overcome love, sentimentality and cowardice! For these three, he pointed out, were the common enemy of reason. "And in compensation for the discharge of such duties as may come under the requirements of this trusteeship, the aforesaid Braden Lanier Thorpe shall receive the fees ordinarily allotted by law and, in addition, the salary of twenty-five thousand dollars per annum, until the terms of this instrument are fully carried out."
Anne Tresslyn Thorpe was named as executrix of the will.
Simmy Dodge was the first to speak. He was the first to grasp the full meaning of this deliberately ambiguous will. His face cleared.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, without respect for the proprieties. He slapped Braden on the back, somewhat enthusiastically. "We sha'n't have to smash it, after all. It's the cleverest thing I've ever listened to, old man. What a head your grandfather had on his—"
Braden leaped to his feet, his face quivering. "Of course we'll smash it," he stormed. "Do you suppose or imagine for an instant that I will allow such a thing as that to stand? Do you—"
"Go slow, Brady, go slow," broke in his excited, self-appointed lawyer. "Can't you see through it? Can't you see what he was after? Why, good Lord, man, he has made you the principal legatee,—he has actually given you everything. All this rigmarole about a trust or a foundation or whatever you want to call it amounts to absolutely nothing. The money is yours to do what you like with as long as you live. You have complete control of every dollar of it. No one else has a thing to say about it. Why, it's the slickest, soundest will I've—"
"Oh, my God!" groaned Braden, dropping into a chair and covering his face with his hands.
Judge Hollenback was smiling benignly. He had drawn the will. He knew that it was sound, if not "slick," as Simmy had described it. The three Tresslyns leaned forward in their chairs, bewildered, dumbfounded. Their gaze was fixed on the shaking figure of Braden Thorpe.
As for Wade, he had sunk helplessly into a chair. A strange, hunted look appeared in his eyes. His chin sank lower and lower, and his body twitched. He was not caring what happened to Braden Thorpe, he was not even thinking about the vast fortune that had been placed at the young man's disposal. His soul was sick. In spite of all that he could do to prevent it, his gaze went furtively to Murray's rubicund jowl, and then shifted to the rapt, eager face of his young mistress. Twenty-five thousand dollars! There was no excuse for him now. With all that money he could not hope to stay on in service. He was rich. He would have to go out into the world and shift for himself. He could not go on 'tending furnace for Mrs. Thorpe,—he couldn't take the bread out of some deserving wretch's mouth by hanging onto the job with all that money in his possession. Mrs. Thorpe would congratulate him on the morrow, and turn him out. And no one would tell him where to go,—unless it might be Murray, in a fit of anger.
"Mr. Thorpe was not moved by any desire to circumvent certain—perhaps I should say that he intended you, Dr. Thorpe, to act in strict accordance with the provisions of the will," said Judge Hollenback. "He did not lose sight of the fact that he had promised to leave you out of his will completely. This money is not yours. It is in your hands as trustee. Mr. Dodge is wrong. Your grandfather was very deeply in earnest when he authorised the drawing of this instrument. You will discover, on reading it carefully and thoughtfully, that he does not give you the right to divert any of this money to your own private uses, but clearly says that it is to be employed, under your sole direction and as you see fit, for the carrying out of your ideas along certain lines. He has left a letter for you, Dr. Thorpe, which I have been privileged to read. You will find it in this envelope. For the benefit of future beneficiaries under this instrument, I may say that he expresses the hope and desire that you will not permit the movement to languish after your death. In fact, he expressly instructs you to establish during your life time a systematic scheme of education by reason of which the world eventually may become converted to the ideas which you promulgate and defend. He realised that this cannot he brought about in one generation, nor in two, three or four. Indeed, he ventures the opinion that two centuries may pass before this sound and sensible theory of yours,—the words are his, not mine,—becomes a reality. Two centuries, mind you. So, you will see, he does not expect you to perform a miracle, Braden. You are to start the ball rolling, so to speak, in a definite, well-supported groove, from which there can be no deviation. By this will, you are to have free and unhampered use of a vast sum of money. He does not bind you in any particular. So much for the outward expression of the will. Inversely, however, as you will find by reading this letter, you are not so completely free to exercise your own discretion. You will find that while he gives to you the undisputed right to bequeath this fortune as you may see fit at the expiration of your term as trustee—in short, at your death,—he suggests that,—being an honourable and conscientious man to his certain knowledge,—you will create a so- called foundation for the perpetuation of your ideas—and his, I may add. This foundation is to grow out of and to be the real development of the trust over which you now have absolute control. But all this, my friend, we may discuss later on. The real significance of Mr. Thorpe's will is to be found in the faith he reposes in you. He puts you on your honour. He entrusts this no inconsiderable fortune to your care. It rests entirely with you as to the manner in which it shall be used. If you elect to squander it, there is no one to say nay to you. It is expressly stated here that the trust comprehends the spread of the doctrines you advocate, but it does not pretend to guide or direct you in the handling of the funds. Mr. Thorpe trusts you to be governed by the dictates of your own honour. I have no hesitancy in saying that I protested against this extraordinary way of creating a trust, declaring to him that I thought he was doing wrong in placing you in such a position,—that is to say, it was wrong of him to put temptation in your way. He was confident, however. In fact, he was entirely satisfied with the arrangement. I will admit that at the time I had a queer impression that he was chuckling to himself, but of course I was wrong. It was merely the quick and difficult breathing of one in dire pain. The situation is quite plain, ladies and gentlemen. The will is sound. Mr. Dodge has observed,—somewhat hastily I submit,—that he believes it will not have to be smashed. He says that the money has been left to Dr. Thorpe, and that the trust is a rigmarole, or something of the sort. Mr. Dodge is right, after a fashion. If Dr. Thorpe chooses to violate his grandfather's staunch belief in his integrity, if he elects to disregard the suggestions set down in this letter—which, you must understand, is in no sense a legal supplement to the will,—he may justify Mr. Dodge's contention that the fortune is his to do with as he pleases." He turned to Anne. "I beg to inform you, Mrs. Thorpe, that your duties as executrix will not prove onerous. Your late husband left his affairs in such shape that there will be absolutely no difficulty in settling the estate. It could be done in half an hour, if necessary. Everything is ship-shape, as the saying is. I shall be glad to place myself at the command of yourself and your attorneys. Have no hesitancy in calling upon me."
He waited. No one spoke. Braden was looking at him now. He had recovered from his momentary collapse and was now listening intently to the old lawyer's words. There was a hard, uncompromising light in his eyes,—a sullen prophecy of trouble ahead. After a moment, Judge Hollenback construed their silence as an invitation to go on. He liked to talk.
"Our good friend Dodge says that no one else has a thing to say about the manner in which the trustee of this vast fund shall disperse his dollars." (Here he paused, for it sounded rather good to him.) "Ahem! Now does Mr. Dodge really believe what he says? Just a moment, please. I am merely formulating—er—I beg pardon, Mrs. Thorpe. You were saying—?"
"I prefer not to act as executrix of the will, Judge Hollenback," said Anne dully. "How am I to go about being released from—"
"My dear Mrs. Thorpe, you must believe me when I say that your duties,—er—the requirements,—are practically nil. Pray do not labour under the impression that—"
"It isn't that," said Anne. "I just don't want to serve, that's all. I shall refuse."
"My daughter will think the matter over for a few days, Judge Hollenback," said Mrs. Tresslyn suavely. "She does feel, I've no doubt, that it would be a tax on her strength and nerves. In a few days, I'm sure, she will feel differently." She thought she had sensed Anne's reason for hesitating. Mrs. Tresslyn had been speechless with dismay—or perhaps it was indignation—up to this moment. She had had a hard fight to control her emotions.
"We need not discuss it now, at any rate," said Anne. She found it extremely difficult to keep from looking at Braden as she spoke. Something told her that he was looking hard at her. She kept her face averted.
"Quite right, quite right," said Judge Hollenback. "I hope you will forgive me, Braden, for mentioning your—er—theories,—the theories which inspired the somewhat disturbing clause in your grandfather's will. I feel that it is my duty to explain my position in the matter. I was opposed to the creation of this fund. I tried to make your grandfather see the utter fallacy of his—shall we call it whim? Now, I will not put myself in the attitude of denying the true humanity of your theory. I daresay it has been discussed by physicians for ages. It was my aim to convince your grandfather that all the money in the world cannot bring about the result you desire. I argued from the legal point of view. There are the insurance companies to consider. They will put obstacles in the way of—"
"Pardon me, Judge Hollenback," interrupted Braden steadily. "I do not advocate an illegal act. We need not discuss my theories, however. The absurdity of the clause in my grandfather's will is as clear to me as it is to you. The conditions cannot be carried out. I shall refuse to accept this trusteeship."
Judge Hollenback stared. "But, my dear friend, you must accept. What is to become of the—er—money if you refuse to act? You can't possibly refuse. There is no other provision for the disposition of the estate. He has put it squarely up to you. There is no other solution. You may be sure, sir, that I do not care what you do with the money, and I fancy no one else will undertake to define your—"
"Just the same, sir, I cannot and will not accept," said Braden, finality in his tone. "I cannot tell you how shocked, how utterly overwhelmed I am by—"
Simmy interrupted him. "I'd suggest, old fellow, that you take Mr. Thorpe's letter to your rooms and read it. Take time to think it all out for yourself. Don't go off half-cocked like this."
"You at least owe it to yourself and to your grandfather—" began Judge Hollenback soothingly, but was cut short by Braden, who arose and turned to the door. There he stopped and faced them.
"I'm sorry, Judge Hollenback, but I must ask you to consider the matter closed. I shall leave you and Mr. Dodge to find a satisfactory solution. In the first place, I am a practising physician and surgeon. I prefer to regulate my own life and my life's work. I need not explain to you just how deeply I am interested in the saving of human life. That comes first with me. My theories, as you call them, come second. I cannot undertake the promotion of these theories as a salaried advocate. This is the only stupid and impractical thing that my grandfather ever did, I believe. He must have known that the terms of the will could not be carried out. Mr. Dodge is right. It was his way of leaving the property to me after declaring that he would not do so, after adding the codicil annulling the bequest intended for me. He broke a solemn compact. Now he has made the situation absolutely impossible. I shall not act as trustee of this fund, and I shall not use a penny of the fortune 'as I see fit,' Judge Hollenback. There must be some other channel into which all this money can be diverted without—"
"There is no provision, sir, as I said before," said Judge Hollenback testily. "It can only be released by an act of yours. That is clear, quite clear."
"Then, I shall find a way," said Braden resolutely. "I shall go into court and ask to have the will set aside as—"
"That's it, sir, that's it," came an eager voice from an unexpected quarter. Wade was leaning forward in his chair, visibly excited by the prospect of relief. "I can testify, sir, that Mr. Thorpe acted strangely,—yes, very queerly,—during the past few months. I should say that he was of unsound mind." Then, as every eye was upon him, he subsided as suddenly as he had begun.
"Shut up!" whispered Murray, murderously, bending over, the better to penetrate his ear. "You damn fool!"
Judge Hollenback indulged in a frosty smile. "Mr. Wade is evidently bewildered." Then, turning to Braden, he said: "Mr. Dodge's advice is excellent. Think the matter over for a few days and then come to see me."
"I am placed in a most unhappy position," said Braden, with dignity. "Mrs. Thorpe appreciates my feelings, I am sure. She was led to believe, as I was, that my grandfather had left me out of his will. Such a thing as this subterfuge never crossed my mind, nor hers. I wish to assure her, in the presence of all of you, that I was as completely ignorant of all this—"
"I know it, Braden," interrupted Anne. "I know that you had nothing to do with it. And for that reason I feel that you should accept the trust that is—"
"Anne!" cried out Braden, incredulously. "You cannot mean it. You—"
"I do mean it," she said firmly. "It is your greatest justification. You should carry out his wishes. He does not leave you the money outright. You may do as you please with it, to be sure, but why should you agree with Simmy that it may be converted solely to your own private uses? Why should you feel that he intended you to have it all for your own? Does he not set forth explicitly just what uses it is to be put to by you during your lifetime? He puts you on your honour. He knew what he was about when he overruled Judge Hollenback's objection. He knew that this trust would be safe in your hands. Yes, Braden, he knew that you would not spend a penny of it on yourself."
He was staring at her blankly. Mrs. Tresslyn was speaking now, but it is doubtful if he heard a word that she uttered. He was intent only upon the study of Anne's warm, excited face.
"Mr. Thorpe assured me a little over a year ago," began Anne's mother, a hard light in her eyes, "that it was his determination to leave his grandson out of his will altogether. It was his desire,—or at least, so he said,—to remove from Braden's path every obstacle that might interfere with his becoming a great man and a credit to his name. By that, of course, he meant money unearned. He told me that most of his fortune was to go to Charitable and Scientific Institutions. I had his solemn word of honour that his grandson was to be in no sense a beneficiary under his will. He—"
"Please, mother!" broke in Anne, a look of real shame in her eyes.
"And so how are we to reconcile this present foolishness with his very laudable display of commonsense of a year ago?" went on Mrs. Tresslyn, the red spot darkening in her cheek. "He played fast and loose with all of us. I agree with Braden Thorpe. There was treachery in—"
"Ahem!" coughed Judge Hollenback so loudly and so pointedly that the angry sentence was not completed.
Mrs. Tresslyn was furious. She had been cheated, and Anne had been cheated. The old wretch had played a trick on all of them! He had bought Anne for two millions, and now nothing,—absolutely nothing was to go to Charity! Braden was seven times a millionaire instead of a poor but ambitious seeker after fame!
In the few minutes that followed Judge Hollenback's cough, she had time to restore her equanimity to its habitual elevation. It had, for once, stooped perilously near to catastrophe.
Meanwhile, her son George had arrived at a conclusion. He arose from his chair with a wry face and a half uttered groan, and crossed over to Braden's side. Strange, fierce pains were shooting through all the joints and muscles of his body.
"See here, Brady, I'd like to ask a question, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind. What is it?"
"Would you have operated on Mr. Thorpe if you'd known what was in this will?"
Braden hesitated, but only for a second. "Yes. My grandfather asked me to operate. There was nothing else for me to do under the circumstances."
"That's just what I thought. Well, all I've got to say is that so long as you respected his wishes while he was alive it seems pretty rotten in you to take the stand you're taking now."
"What do you mean?"
"He virtually asked you to make an end of him. You both knew there was no chance. You operated and he died. I'm speaking plainly, you see. No one blames you. You did your best. But it seems to me that if you could do what he asked you to do at that time, you ought to do what he asks of you now. As long as you were willing to respect his last wish alive, you ought not to stir up a rumpus over his first wish dead."
The two men were looking hard into each other's eyes. George's voice shook a little, but not from fear or nervousness. He was shivering with the chill that precedes fever.
Anne drew a step or two nearer. She laid an appealing hand on George's arm.
"I think I understand you, George," said Thorpe slowly. "You are telling me that you believe I took my grandfather's life by design. You—"
"No," said George quietly, "I'm not saying that, Brady. I'm saying that you owe as much to him now as you did when he was alive. If you had not consented to operate, this will would never have been drawn. If you had refused, the first will would have been read to-day. I guess you are entirely responsible for the making of this new will, and that's why I say you ought to be man enough to stand by your work."
Thorpe turned away. His face was very white and his hands were clenched.
Anne shook her brother's arm. "Why,—oh, why did you say that to him, George? Why—"
"Because it ought to have been said to him," said George coolly; "that's why. He made old Mr. Thorpe see things from his point of view, and it's up to him to shoulder the responsibility."
Mrs. Tresslyn spoke to Murray. "Is there any reason why we shouldn't have tea, Murray? Serve it, please." She turned to Judge Hollenback. "I don't see any sense in trying to settle all the little details to-day, do you, Judge Hollenback? We've done all that it is possible to do to-day. The will has been read. That is all we came for, I fancy. I confess that I am astonished by several of the provisions, but the more I think of them the less unreasonable they seem to be. We have nothing to quarrel about. Every one appears to be satisfied except Dr. Thorpe, so let us have tea—and peace. Sit down, Braden. You can't decide the question to-day. It has too many angles."
Braden lifted his head. "Thank you, Mrs. Tresslyn; I shall not wait. At what hour may I see you to-morrow, Judge Hollenback?"
"Name your own hour, Braden."
"Three o'clock," said Braden succinctly. He turned to George. "No hard feelings, George, on my part."
"Nor on mine," said George, extending his hand. "It's just my way of looking at things lately. No offence was meant, Brady. I'm too fond of you for that."
"You've given me something to think about," said Thorpe. He bowed stiffly to the ladies and Judge Hollenback. George stepped out into the hall with him.
"I intend to stick pretty close to Anne, Brady," he said with marked deliberation. "She needs me just now."
Thorpe started. "I don't get your meaning, George."
"There will be talk, old man,—talk about you and Anne. Do you get it now?"
"Good heaven! I—yes, I suppose there will be all sorts of conjectures," groaned Braden bitterly. "People remember too well, George. You may rest easy, however. I shall not give them any cause to talk. As for coming to this house again, I can tell you frankly that as I now feel I could almost make a vow never to enter its doors again as long as I live."
"Well, I just thought I'd let you know how I stand in the matter," said George. "I'm going to try to look out for Anne, if she'll let me. Good- bye, Brady. I hope you'll count me as one of your friends, if you think I'm worth while. I'm—I'm going to make a fresh start, you know." He grinned, and his teeth chattered.
"You'd better go to bed," said Braden, looking at him closely. "Tell Anne that I said so, and—you'd better let a doctor look you over, too."
"I haven't much use for doctors," said George, shaking his head. "I wanted to kill you last winter when you cut poor little Lutie—Oh, but of course you understand. I was kind of dotty then, I guess. So long."
Simmy came to the library door and called out: "I'll be with you in a second, Brady. I'm going your way, and I don't care which way you're going. My car's outside." Re-entering the room, Mr. Dodge walked up to Anne and actually shook her as a parent would shake a child. "Don't be silly about it, Anne. You've got to accept the house. He left it to you without—"
"I cannot live up to the conditions. The will says that I must continue to make this place my home, that I must reside here for—Oh! I cannot do it, that's all, Simmy. I would go mad, living here. There is no use discussing the matter. I will not take the house."
"'Pon my soul," sighed Judge Hollenback, "the poor man seems to have made a mess of everything. He can't even give his property away. No one will take it. Braden refuses, Mrs. Thorpe refuses, Wade is dissatisfied—Ah, yes, Murray seems to be pleased. One lump, Mrs. Tresslyn, and a little cream. Now as for Wade's attitude—by the way, where is the man?"
Wade was at the lower end of the hall, speaking earnestly in a tremulous undertone to Braden Thorpe.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Braden, there's only one thing to do. We've got to have it set aside, declared void. You may count on me, sir. I'll swear to his actions. Crazy as a loon, sir,—? crazy as a loon."
Two days later George Tresslyn staggered weakly into Simmy Dodge's apartment. He was not alone. A stalwart porter from an adjacent apartment building was supporting him when Dodge's man opened the door.
"This Mr. Dodge?" demanded the porter.
"Mr. Dodge's man. Mr. Dodge isn't at 'ome," said Baffly quickly.
"All right," said the porter, pushing past the man and leading George toward a couch he had observed from the open door. "This ain't no jag, Johnny. He's sick. Out of his head. Batty. Say, don't you know him? Am I in wrong? He said he wanted to come here to—"
George had tossed himself, sprawling, upon the long couch. His eyes were closed and his breathing was stertorous.
"Of course I know him. What—what is the matter with him? My Gawd, man, don't tell me he is dying. What do you mean, bringing 'im 'ere? There will be a coroner's hinquest and—"
"You better get a doctor first. Waste no time. Get the coroner afterward if you have to. You tell Mr. Dodge that he came into our place half an hour ago and said he wanted to go up to his friend's apartment. He was clean gone then. He wanted to lick the head porter for saying Mr. Dodge didn't live in the buildin'. We saw in a minute that he hadn't been drinkin'. Just as we was about to call an ambulance, a gentleman in our building came along and reckonised him as young Mr. Tresslyn. Friend of Mr. Dodge's. That was enough for us. So I brings him around. Now it's up to you guys to look after him. Off his nut. My name's Jenks. Tell it to Mr. Dodge, will you? And git a doctor quick. Put your hand here on his head. Aw, he won't bite you! Put it here. Ever feel anything as hot as that?"
Baffly arose to the occasion. "Mr. Dodge 'as been hexpecting Mr. Tresslyn. He will also be hexpecting you, Mr. Jenks, at six o'clock this evening."
"All right," said Mr. Jenks.
Baffly put George Tresslyn to bed and then called up Mr. Dodge's favourite club. He never called up the office except as a last resort. If Mr. Dodge wasn't to be found at any one of his nine clubs, or at certain restaurants, it was then time for calling up the office. Mr. Dodge was not in the club, but he had left word that if any one called him up he could be found at his office.
"Put him to bed and send for Dr. Thorpe," was Simmy's order a few minutes later.
"I've put 'im to bed, sir."
"Out of his head, you say?"
"I said, 'Put 'im to bed, sir,'" shouted Baffly.
"I'll be home in half-an-hour, Baffly."
Simmy called up Anne Thorpe at once and reported that George had been found and was now in his rooms. He would call up later on. She was not to worry,—and good-bye!
It appears that George Tresslyn had been missing from the house near Washington Square since seven o'clock on the previous evening. At that hour he left his bed, to which Dr. Bates had ordered him, and made off in the cold, sleety night, delirious with the fierce fever that was consuming him. As soon as his plight was discovered, Anne called up Simmy Dodge and begged him to go out in search of her sick, and now irresponsible brother. In his delirium, George repeatedly had muttered threats against Braden Thorpe for the cruel and inhuman "slashing of the most beautiful, the most perfect body in all the world," "marking for life the sweetest girl that God ever let live"; and that he would have to account to him for "the dirty work he had done."
Acting on this hint, Simmy at once looked up Braden Thorpe and put him on his guard. Thorpe laughed at his fears, and promptly joined in the search for the sick man. They thought of Lutie, of course, and hurried to her small apartment. She was not at home. Her maidservant said that she did not know where she could be found. Mrs. Tresslyn had gone out alone at half-past seven, to dine with friends, but had left no instructions,—a most unusual omission, according to the young woman.
It was a raw, gusty night. A fine, penetrating sleet cut the face, and the sharp wind drove straight to the marrow of the most warmly clad. Tresslyn was wandering about the streets, witless yet dominated by a great purpose, racked with pain and blind with fever, insufficiently protected against the gale that met his big body as he trudged doggedly into it in quest of—what? He had left Anne's home without overcoat, gloves or muffler. His fever-struck brain was filled with a resolve that deprived him of all regard for personal comfort or safety. He was out in the storm, looking for some one, and whether love or hate was in his heart, no man could tell.
All night long Dodge and Thorpe looked for him, aided in their search by three or four private detectives who were put on the case at midnight. At one o'clock the two friends reappeared at Lutie's apartment, summoned there by the detective who had been left on guard with instructions to notify them when she returned.
It was from the miserable, conscience-stricken Lutie that they had an account of George's adventures earlier in the night. White-faced, scared and despairing, she poured out her unhappy tale of triumph over love and pity. The thing that she had longed for, though secretly dreaded, had finally come to pass. She had seen her former husband in the gutter, degraded, besotted, thoroughly reduced to the level from which nothing save her own loyal, loving efforts could lift him. She had dreamed of a complete conquest of caste, and the remaking of a man. She had dreamed of the day when she could pick up from the discarded of humanity this splendid, misused bit of rubbish and in triumph claim it as her own, to revive, to rebuild, to make over through the sure and simple processes of love! This had been Lutie Tresslyn's notion of revenge!
She saw George at eight o'clock that night. As she stood in the shelter of the small canvas awning protecting the entrance to the building in which she lived, waiting for the taxi to pull up, her eyes searched the swirling shadows up and down the street. She never failed to look for the distant and usually indistinct figure of her man. It had become a habit with her. The chauffeur had got down to crank his machine, and there was promise of a no inconsiderable delay in getting the cold engine started. She was on the point of returning to the shelter of the hallway, when she caught sight of a tall, shambling figure crossing the street obliquely, and at once recognised George Tresslyn. He was staggering. The light from the entrance revealed his white, convulsed face. Her heart sank. She had never seen him so drunk, so disgusting as this! The taxi-cab was twenty or thirty feet away. She would have to cross a wet, exposed space in order to reach it before George could come up with her. She realised with a quiver of alarm that it was the first time in all these months that he had ventured to approach her. It was clear that he now meant to accost her,—he might even contemplate violence! She wanted to run, but her feet refused to obey the impulse. Fascinated she watched the unsteady figure lurching toward her, and the white face growing more and more distinct and forbidding as it came out of the darkness. Suddenly she was released from the spell. Like a flash she darted toward the taxi-cab. From behind came a hoarse cry.
"Lutie! For God's sake—"
"Quick!" she cried out to the driver. "Open the door! Be quick!"
The engine was throbbing. She looked back. George was supporting himself by clinging to one of the awning rods. His legs seemed to be crumbling beneath his weight. Her heart smote her. He had no overcoat. It was a bare hand that gripped the iron rod and a bare hand that was held out toward her. Thank heaven, he had stopped there! He was not coming on.
"Lutie! Oh, Lutie!" came almost in a wail from his lips. Then he began to cry out something incoherent, maudlin, unintelligible.
"Never mind him," said the driver reassuringly. "Just a souse. Wants to make a touch, madam. Streets are full of 'em these cold nights. He won't bone you while I'm here. Where to?" He was holding the door open.
Lutie hesitated. Long afterwards she recalled the strange impulse that came so near to sending her back to the side of the man who cried out to her from the depths of a bottomless pit. Something whispered from her heart that now was her time,—now! And then came the loud cry from her brain, drowning the timid voice of the merciful: "Wait! Wait! Not now! To- morrow!"
And while she stood there, uncertain, held inactive by the two warring emotions, George turned and staggered away, reeling, and crying out in a queer, raucous voice.
"They'll get him," said the driver.
"Who will get him?" cried Lutie, shrilly.
"The police. He—"
"No! No! It must not be that. That's not what I want,—do you hear, driver? Not that. He must not be locked up—Oh!" George had collapsed. His knees went from under him and he was half-prostrate on the curb. "Oh! He has fallen! He has hurt himself! Go and see, driver. Go at once." She forgot the sleet and the wind, and stood there wide-eyed and terrified while the man shuffled forward to investigate. She hated him for stirring the fallen man with his foot, and she hated him when he shook him violently with his hands.
"I better call a cop," said the man. "He's pretty full. He'll freeze if—I know how it is, ma'am. I used to hit it up a bit myself. I—"
"Listen!" cried Lutie, regaining the shelter of the awning, where she stopped in great perturbation. "Listen; you must put him in your cab and take him somewhere. I will pay you. Here! Here is five dollars. Don't mind me. I will get another taxi. Be quick! There is a policeman coming. I see him,—there by—"
"Gee! I don't know where to take him. I—"
"You can't leave him lying there in the gutter, man," she cried fiercely. "The gutter! The gutter! My God, what a thing to happen to—"
"Here! Get up, you!" shouted the driver, shaking George's shoulder. "Come along, old feller. I'll look out for you. Gee! He weighs a ton."
Tresslyn was mumbling, half audibly, and made little or no effort to help his unwilling benefactor, who literally dragged him to his feet.
"Is—is he hurt?" cried Lutie, from the doorway.
"No. Plain souse."
"Where will you take him?"
The man reflected. "It wouldn't be right to take him to his home. Maybe he's got a wife. These fellers beat 'em up when they get like this."
"A wife? Beat them up—oh, you don't know what you are saying. He—"
At this juncture George straightened out his powerful figure, shook off the Samaritan and with a loud, inarticulate cry rushed off down the street. The driver looked after the retreating figure in utter amazement.
"By Gosh! Why—why; he ain't any more drunk than I am," he gasped. "Well, can you beat that? All bunk! It beats thunder what these panhandlers will do to pick up a dime or two. He was—say, he saw the cop, that's what it was. Lord, look at him go!"
Tresslyn was racing wildly toward the corner. Lutie, aghast at this disgusting exhibition of trickery, watched the flying figure of her husband. She never knew that she was clinging to the arm of the driver. She only knew that her heart seemed to have turned to lead. As he turned the corner and disappeared from view, she found her voice and it seemed that it was not her own. He had swerved widely and almost lost his feet as he made the turn. He was drunk! Her heart leaped with joy. He was drunk. He had not tried to trick her.
"Go after him!" she cried out, shaking the man in her agitation. "Find him! Don't let him get away. I—"
But the policeman was at her elbow.
"What's the matter here?" he demanded.
"Panhandler," said the driver succinctly.
"Just a poor wretch who—who wanted enough for—for more drink, I suppose," said Lutie, warily. Her heart was beating violently. She was immensely relieved by the policeman's amiable grunt. It signified that the matter was closed so far as he was concerned. He politely assisted her into the taxi-cab and repeated her tremulous directions to the driver. As the machine chortled off through the deserted street, she peered through the little window at the back. Her apprehensions faded. The officer was standing where she had left him.
Then came Thorpe and Simmy Dodge in the dead hour of night and she learned that she had turned away from him when he was desperately ill. Sick and tortured, he had come to her and she had denied him. She looked so crushed, so pathetic that the two men undertook to convince her that she had nothing to fear,—they would protect her from George!
She smiled wanly, shook her head, and confessed that she did not want to be protected against him. She wanted to surrender. She wanted him to protect her. Suddenly she was transformed. She sprang to her feet and faced them, and she was resolute. Her voice rang with determination, her lips no longer drooped and trembled, and the appeal was gone from her eyes.
"He must be found, Simmy," she said imperatively. "Find him and bring him here to me. This is his home. I want him here."
The two men went out again, half an hour later, to scour the town for George Tresslyn. They were forced to use every argument at their command to convince her that it would be highly improper, in more ways than one, to bring the sick man to her apartment. She submitted in the end, but they were bound by a promise to take him to a hospital and not to the house of either his mother or his sister.
"He belongs to me," she said simply. "You must do what I tell you to do. They do not want him. I do. When you have found him, call me up, Simmy, and I will come. I shall not go to bed. Thank you,—both of you,—for—for—" She turned away as her voice broke. After a moment she faced them again. "And you will take charge of him, Dr. Thorpe?" she said. "I shall hold you to your promise. There is no one that I trust so much as I do you."
Thorpe was with the sick man when Simmy arrived at his apartment. George was rolling and tossing and moaning in his delirium, and the doctor's face was grave.
"Pneumonia," he said. "Bad, too,—devilish bad. He cannot be moved, Simmy."
Simmy did not blink an eye. "Then right here he stays," he said heartily. "Baffly, we shall have two nurses here for a while,—and we may also have to put up a young lady relative of Mr. Tresslyn's. Get the rooms ready. By Jove, Brady, he—he looks frightfully ill, doesn't he?" His voice dropped to a whisper. "Is he likely to—to—you know!"
"I think you'd better send for Dr. Bates," said Braden gravely. "I believe his mother and sister will be better satisfied if you have him in at once, Simmy."
"But Lutie expressly—"
"I shall do all that I can to redeem my promise to that poor little girl, but we must consider Anne and Mrs. Tresslyn. They may not have the same confidence in me that Lutie has. I shall insist on having Dr. Bates called in."
"All right, if you insist. But—but you'll stick around, won't you, Brady?"
Thorpe nodded his head. He was watching the sick man's face very closely.
Half an hour later, Lutie Tresslyn and Anne Thorpe entered the elevator on the first floor of the building and went up together to the apartment of Simeon Dodge. Anne had lifted her veil,—a feature in her smart tribute to convention,—and her lovely features were revealed to the cast-off sister- in-law. For an instant they stared hard at each other. Then Anne, recovering from her surprise, bowed gravely and held out her hand.
"May we not forget for a little while?" she said.
Lutie shook her head. "I can't take your hand—not yet, Mrs. Thorpe. It was against me once, and I am afraid it will be against me again." She detected the faintest trace of a smile at the corners of Anne's mouth. A fine line appeared between her eyes. This fine lady could still afford to laugh at her! "I am going up to take care of my husband, Mrs. Thorpe," she added, a note of defiance in her voice. She was surprised to see the smile,—a gentle one it was,—deepen in Anne's eyes.
"That is why I suggested that we try to forget," she said.
Lutie started. "You—you do not intend to object to my—" she began, and stopped short, her eyes searching Anne's for the answer to the uncompleted question.
"I am not your enemy," said Anne quietly. She hesitated and then lowered the hand that was extended to push the button beside Simmy's door. "Before we go in, I think we would better understand each other, Lutie." She had never called the girl by her Christian name before. "I have nothing to apologise for. When you And George were married I did not care a pin, one way or the other. You meant nothing to me, and I am afraid that George meant but little more. I resented the fact that my mother had to give you a large sum of money. It was money that I could have used very nicely myself. Now that I look back upon it, I am frank to confess that therein lies the real secret of my animosity toward you. It didn't in the least matter to me whether George married you, or my mother's chambermaid, or the finest lady in the land. You will be surprised to learn that I looked upon myself as the one who was being very badly treated at the time. To put it rather plainly, I thought you were getting from my mother a great deal more than you were worth. Forgive me for speaking so frankly, but it is best that you should understand how I felt in those days so that you may credit me with sincerity now. I shall never admit that you deserved the thirty thousand dollars you took from us, but I now say that you were entitled to keep the man you loved and married. I don't care how unworthy you may have seemed to us, you should not have been compelled to take money for something you could not sell—the enduring love of that sick boy in there. My mother couldn't buy it, and you couldn't sell it. You have it still and always will have it, Lutie. I am glad that you have come to take care of him. You spoke of him as 'my husband' a moment ago. You were right. He is your husband. I, for one, shall not oppose you in anything you may see fit to do. We do not appear to have been capable of preserving what you gave back to us—for better or for worse, if you please,—so I fancy we'd better turn the job over to you. I hope it isn't too late. I love my brother now. I suppose I have always loved him but I overlooked the fact in concentrating my affection on some one else,—and that some one was myself. You see I do not spare myself, Lutie, but you are not to assume that I am ashamed of the Anne Tresslyn who was. I petted and coddled her for years and I alone made her what she was, so I shall not turn against her now. There is a great deal of the old Anne in me still and I coddle her as much as ever. But I've found out something new about her that I never suspected before, and it is this new quality that speaks to you now. I ask you to try to forget, Lutie."
Throughout this long speech Lutie's eyes never left those of the tall young woman in black.
"Why do you call me Lutie?" she asked.
"Because it is my brother's name for you," said Anne.
Lutie lowered her eyes for an instant. A sharp struggle was taking place within her. She had failed to see in Anne's eyes the expression that would have made compromise impossible: the look of condescension. Instead, there was an anxious look there that could not be mistaken. She was in earnest. She could be trusted. The old barrier was coming down. But even as her lips parted to utter the words that Anne wanted to hear, suspicion intervened and Lutie's sore, tried heart cried out:
"You have come here to claim him! You expect me to stand aside and let you take him—"
"No, no! He is yours. I did come to help him, to nurse him, to be a real sister to him, but—that was before I knew that you would come."
"I am sorry I spoke as I did," said Lutie, with a little catch in her voice. "I—I hope that we may become friends, Mrs. Thorpe. If that should come to pass, I—am sure that I could forget."
"And you will allow me to help—all that I can?"
"Yes." Then quickly, jealously: "But he belongs to me. You must understand that, Mrs. Thorpe."
Anne drew closer and whispered in sudden admiration. "You are really a wonderful person, Lutie Carnahan. How can you be so fine after all that you have endured?"
"I suppose it is because I too happen to love myself," said Lutie drily, and turned to press the button. "We are all alike." Anne laid a hand upon her arm.
"Wait. You will meet my mother here. She has been notified. She has not forgiven you." There was a note of uneasiness in her voice.
Lutie looked at her in surprise. "And what has that to do with it?" she demanded.
Then they entered the apartment together.
George Tresslyn pulled through.
He was a very sick man, and he wanted to die. That is to say, he wanted to die up to a certain point and then he very much wanted to live. Coming out of his delirium one day he made a most incredible discovery, and at that very instant entered upon a dream that was never to end. He saw Lutie sitting at his bedside and he knew that it must be a dream. As she did not fade away then, nor in all the mysterious days that followed, he came to the conclusion that if he ever did wake up it would be the most horrible thing that could happen to him. It was a most grateful and satisfying dream. It included a wonderful period of convalescence, a delightful and ever-increasing appetite, a painless return voyage over a road that had been full of suffering on the way out, a fantastic experience in the matter of legs that wouldn't work and wobbled fearfully, a constant but properly subdued desire to sing and whistle—oh, it was a glorious dream that George was having!
For six weeks he was the uninvited guest of Simmy Dodge. Three of those weeks were terrifying to poor Simmy, and three abounded with the greatest joy he had ever known, for when George was safely round the corner and on the road to recovery, the hospitality of Simmy Dodge expanded to hitherto untried dimensions. Relieved of the weight that had pressed them down to an inconceivable depth, Simmy's spirits popped upward with an effervescence so violent that there was absolutely no containing them. They flowed all over the place. All day long and most of the night they were active. He hated to go to bed for fear of missing an opportunity to do something to make everybody happy and comfortable, and he was up so early in the morning that if he hadn't been in his own house some one would have sent him back to bed with a reprimand.
He revelled in the establishment of a large though necessarily disconnected family circle. The nurses, the doctors, the extra servants, Anne's maid, Anne herself, the indomitable Lutie, and, on occasions, the impressive Mrs. Tresslyn,—all of these went to make up Simmy's family.
The nurses were politely domineering: they told him what he could do and what he could not do, and he obeyed them with a cheerfulness that must have shamed them. The doctors put all manner of restrictions upon him; the servants neglected to whisper when discussing their grievances among themselves; his French poodle was banished because canine hospitality was not one of the niceties, and furthermore it was most annoying to recent acquaintances engaged in balancing well-filled cups of broth in transit; his own luxurious bath-room was seized, his bed-chambers invested, his cosy living-room turned into a rest room which every one who happened to be disengaged by day or night felt free to inhabit. He had no privacy except that which was to be found in the little back bedroom into which he was summarily shunted when the occupation began, and he wasn't sure of being entirely at home there. At any time he expected a command to evacuate in favour of an extra nurse or a doctor's assistant. But through all of it, he shone like a gem of purest ray.
At the outset he realised that his apartment, commodious when reckoned as a bachelor's abode, was entirely inadequate when it came to accommodating a company of persons who were not and never could be bachelors. Lutie refused to leave George; and Anne, after a day or two, came to keep her company. It was then that Simmy began to reveal signs of rare strategical ability. He invaded the small apartment of his neighbour beyond the elevator and struck a bargain with him. The neighbour and his wife rented the apartment to him furnished for an indefinite period and went to Europe on the bonus that Simmy paid. Here Anne and her maid were housed, and here also Mrs. Tresslyn spent a few nights out of each week.
He studied the nurses' charts with an avid interest. He knew all there was to know about temperature, respiration and nourishment; and developing a sudden sort of lordly understanding therefrom, he harangued the engineer about the steam heat, he cautioned the superintendent about noises, and he held many futile arguments with God about the weather. Something told him a dozen times a day, however, that he was in the way, that he was "a regular Marceline," and that if Brady Thorpe had any sense at all he would order him out of the house!
He began to resent the speed with which George's convalescence was marked. He was enjoying himself so immensely in his new environment that he hated to think of going back to the old and hitherto perfect order of existence. When Braden Thorpe and Dr. Bates declared one day that George would be able to go home in a week or ten days, he experienced a surprising and absolutely inexplicable sinking of the heart. He tried to persuade them that it would be a mistake to send the poor fellow out inside of a month or six weeks. That was the trouble with doctors, he said: they haven't any sense. Suppose, he argued, that George were to catch a cold—why, the damp, spring weather would raise the dickens—Anne's house was a drafty old barn of a place, improperly heated,—and any fool could see that if George did have a relapse it would go mighty hard with him. Subsequently he sounded the nurses, severally, on the advisability of abandoning the poor, weak young fellow before he was safely out of the woods, and the nurses, who were tired of the case, informed him that the way George was eating he soon would be as robust as a dock hand. An appeal to Mrs. Tresslyn brought a certain degree of hope. That lady declared, quite bitterly, that inasmuch as her son did not seem inclined to return to her home he might do a great deal worse than to remain where he was, and it was some time before Simmy grasped the full significance of the remark.
He remembered hearing Lutie say that she was going to take George home with her as soon as he was able to be moved!
What was he to do with himself after all these people were gone? For the first time in his life he really knew what it meant to have a home, and now it was to be broken up. He saw more of his home in the five or six weeks that George was there than he had seen of it all told in years. He stayed at home instead of going to the club or the theatre or to stupid dinner parties. He hadn't the faintest idea that a place where a fellow did nothing but sleep and eat bacon and eggs could be looked upon as a "home." He had thought of it only as an apartment, or "diggings." Now he loved his home and everything that was in it. How he would miss the stealthy blue linen nurses, and the expressionless doctors, and the odour of broths and soups, and the scent of roses, and the swish of petticoats, and the elevating presence of pretty women, and the fragrance of them, and the sweet chatter of them—Oh my, oh me-oh-my! If George would only get well in a more leisurely fashion!
Certain interesting events, each having considerable bearing upon the lives of the various persons presented in this narrative, are to be chronicled, but as briefly as possible so that we may get on to the results.
Naturally one turns first to the patient himself. He was the magnet that drew the various opposing forces together and, in a way, united them in a common enterprise, and therefore is of first importance. For days his life hung in the balance. Most of the time he was completely out of his head. It has been remarked that he thought himself to be dreaming when he first beheld Lutie at his bedside, and it now becomes necessary to report an entirely different sensation when he came to realise that he was being attended by Dr. Thorpe. The instant he discovered Lutie he manifested an immense desire to live, and it was this desire that sustained a fearful shock when his fever-free eyes looked up into the face of his doctor. Terror filled his soul. Almost his first rational words were in the form of a half-whispered question: "For God's sake, can't I get well? Is—is it hopeless?"
Braden was never to forget the anguish in the sick man's eyes, nor the sagging of his limp body as if all of his remaining strength had given way before the ghastly fear that assailed him. Thorpe understood. He knew what it was that flashed through George's brain in that first moment of intelligence. His heart sank. Was it always to be like this? Were people to live in dread of him? His voice was husky as he leaned over and laid his hand gently upon the damp brow of the invalid.
"You are going to get well, George. You will be as sound as a rock in no time at all. Trust me, old fellow,—and don't worry."
"But that's what they always say," whispered George, peering straight into the other's eyes. "Doctors always say that. What are you doing here, Brady? Why have you been called in to—"
"Hush! You're all right. Don't get excited. I have been with you from the start. Ask Lutie—or Anne. They will tell you that you are all right."
"I don't want to die," whined George. "I only want a fair chance. Give me a chance, Brady. I'll show you that I—"
"My God!" fell in agonised tones from Thorpe's lips, and he turned away as one condemned.
When Lutie and Anne came into the room soon afterward, they found George in a state of great distress. He clutched Lutie's hand in his strong fingers and drew her down close to him so that he could whisper furtively in her ear.
"Don't let any one convince you that I haven't a chance to get well, Lutie. Don't let him talk you into anything like that. I won't give my consent, Lutie,—I swear to God I won't. He can't do it without my consent. I've just got to get well. I can do it if I get half a chance. I depend on you to stand out against any—"
Lutie managed to quiet him. Thorpe had gone at once to her with the story and she was prepared. For a long time she talked to the frightened boy, and at last he sank back with a weak smile on his lips, confidence partially restored.
Anne stood at the head of the bed, out of his range of vision. Her heart was cold within her. It ached for the other man who suffered and could not cry out. This was but the beginning for him.
In a day or two George's attitude toward Braden underwent a complete change, but all the warmth of his enthusiastic devotion could not drive out the chill that had entered Thorpe's heart on that never-to-be- forgotten morning.
Then there were the frequent and unavoidable meetings of Anne and her former lover. For the better part of three weeks Thorpe occupied a room in Simmy's apartment, to be constantly near his one and only patient. He suffered no pecuniary loss in devoting all of his time and energy to young Tresslyn. Ostensibly he was in full charge of the case, but in reality he deferred to the opinions and advice of Dr. Bates, who came once a day. He had the good sense to appreciate his own lack of experience, and thereby earned the respect and confidence of the old practitioner.
It was quite natural that he and Anne should come in contact with each other. They met in the sick-room, in the drawing-room, and frequently at table. There were times during the darkest hours in George's illness when they stood side by side in the watches of the night. But not once in all those days was there a word bearing on their own peculiar relationship uttered by either of them. It was plain that she had the greatest confidence in him, and he came, ere long, to regard her as a dependable and inspired help. Unlike the distracted, remorseful Lutie, she was the source of great inspiration to those who worked over the sick man. Thorpe marvelled at first and then fell into the way of resorting to her for support and encouragement. He had discovered that she was not playing a game.
Templeton Thorpe's amazing will was not mentioned by either of them, although each knew that the subject lay uppermost in the mind of the other. The newspapers printed columns about the instrument. Reporters who laid in wait for Braden Thorpe, however, obtained no satisfaction. He had nothing to say. The same reporters fell upon Anne and wanted to know when she expected to start proceedings to have the will set aside. They seemed astonished to hear that there was to be no contest on her part. She could not tell them anything about the plans or intentions of Dr. Thorpe, and she had no opinion as to the ultimate effect of the "Foundation" upon the Constitution of the United States or the laws of God!
As a matter of fact, she was more eager than any one else to know the stand that Braden intended to take on the all-absorbing question. Notwithstanding her peculiar position as executrix of the will under which the conditions were created, she could not bring herself to the point of discussing the salient feature of the document with him. And so there the matter stood, unmentioned by either of them, and absolutely unsettled so far as the man most deeply involved was concerned.
Then came the day when Thorpe announced that it was no longer necessary for him to impose upon Simmy's hospitality, and that he was returning that evening to his hotel. George was out of danger. It was then that he said to Anne:
"You have been wonderful, Anne. I want to thank you for what you have done to help me. You might have made the situation impossible, but—well, you didn't, that's all. I am glad that you and that poor little woman in there have become such good friends. You can do a great deal to help her—and George. She is a brick, Anne. You will not lose anything by standing by her now. As I said before, you can always reach me by telephone if anything goes wrong, and I'll drop in every morning to—"
"I want you to know, Braden, that I firmly believe you saved George for us. I shall not try to thank you, however. You did your duty, of course. We will let Lutie weep on your neck, if you don't mind, and you may take my gratitude for granted." There was a slightly satirical note in her voice.
His figure stiffened. "I don't want to be thanked," he said,—"not even by Lutie. You must know that I did not come into this case from choice. But when Lutie insisted I—well, there was nothing else to do."
"Would you have come if I had asked you?" she inquired, and was very much surprised at herself.
"No," he answered. "You would have had no reason for selecting me, and I would have told you as much. And to that I would have added a very good reason why you shouldn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I may as well be frank, Anne. People,—our own friends,—are bound to discuss us pretty thoroughly from now on. No matter how well we may understand each other and the situation, the rest of the world will not understand, simply because it doesn't want to do so. It will wait,—rather impatiently, I fear,—for the chance to say, 'I told you so.' Of course, you are sensible enough to have thought of all this, still I don't see why I shouldn't speak of it to you."
"Has it occurred to you that our friends may be justified in thinking that I did call upon you to take this case, Braden?" she asked quietly.
He frowned. "I daresay that is true. I hadn't thought of it—"
"They also believe that I summoned you to take charge of my husband a few weeks ago. No one has advised the world to the contrary. And now that you are here, in the same house with me, what do you suppose they will say?" A queer little smile played about her lips, a smile of diffidence and apology.
He gave her a quick look of inquiry. "Surely no one will—"
"They will say the Widow Thorpe's devotion to her brother was not her only excuse for moving into good old Simmy's apartment, and they will also say that Dr. Thorpe must be singularly without practice in order to give all of his time to a solitary case."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Anne," he cried impatiently, "give people credit for having a little commonsense and charity. They—"
"I don't give them credit for having anything of the kind," she said coolly, "when it comes to discussing their fellow creatures. I hope you are not distressed, Braden. As you have said, people will discuss us. We cannot escape the consequences of being more or less public institutions, you and I. Of course they will talk about our being here together. I knew that when I came here three weeks ago."
"Then why did you come?" he demanded.
She replied with a directness that shamed him. "Because I do not want people to talk about Lutie. That is one reason. Another is that I wanted to do my share in looking after George." Suddenly her eyes narrowed. "You—you do not imagine that I—I—you couldn't have thought that of me, Braden."